Afghanistan to Disband Crucial Guard Force
Elimination of Force Adds Security Concerns for U.S. Military, International Aid Programs
Updated March 4, 2014 7:48 a.m. ET
KABUL-—The Afghan government is moving to dissolve a crucial guard force that protects military supply convoys, international aid programs and foreign installations, creating new uncertainty over security as the U.S. and its allies withdraw.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior said in a statement Monday that Kabul would disband the Afghan Public Protection Force.
While APPF is a government enterprise, its services are paid for commercially by the clients, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development. It replaced a host of private security contractors.
Top Afghan officials recently issued a directive that would disband the force and fold it into the Ministry of Interior. But U.S. and coalition officials say it is unclear how, exactly, the Afghan government plans to implement this new order-—and who will take over the job of protecting internationally funded reconstruction projects.
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior, said the Afghan National Police would take over some of the functions of the guard force.
"The Cabinet Council had decided to dissolve the state-run enterprise," Mr. Sediqqi said. "It is dissolved, so APPF will remain within the scope and mandate of ANP to provide security."
Added Mr. Sediqqi: "Salaries will be paid by the Afghan government."
The Afghan Ministry of Interior said in its statement that Afghan officials would discuss the situation with international organizations "in order to find an acceptable solution for both sides" while the decision is implemented.
The move, however, presents a dilemma for the U.S. military and aid organizations that work for the U.S. government and its allies. At issue is a 17,000-strong force that is supposed to guard the gates of U.S. military bases and foreign installations and provide armed escorts for fuel convoys plying the country's dangerous roads.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai created the force as part of a plan for the Afghan government to exercise more control over the lucrative private security business in the country and rein in Afghan-run security companies, small private armies that were often deeply unpopular here.
Under a 2010 decree, the government phased out private security firms, but the change didn't sit easily with U.S. and international aid providers and other clients. According to a 2012 audit by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the shift "increased the uncertainty over security" for U.S.-funded projects and increased the cost of guarding them.
Clients of the force have long complained of poor management by the Afghan government company. Some clients say they are paying their guards directly because they haven't receiving their salaries from the APPF.
U.S. Army Col. Jane Crichton, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition, said there had been no immediate impact on security.
"We are not aware of any decisions or significant changes to support that affect the coalition in the near-term," she said. "We are evaluating possible courses of action, including providing our own security or using contract security, among others. At present, the APPF is still providing convoy security escorts with no plan to cease."
The U.S.-led coalition referred questions about lapsed salary payments to the Afghan Ministry of Interior. The U.S. Agency for International Development didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
A person familiar with the issue said the move to shut down or disband the force raised serious questions about accountability. The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force provided initial startup funds of $32.3 million to get the force up and running, but the APPF was supposed to be self-sustaining for the past two years.
"This is a state-owned enterprise that is supposed to raise its own revenue to support its guard force," the person said. "The money that these implementing partners [aid agencies] have paid for the APPF…should be accounted for."
The uncertainty over the force has raised ire on Capitol Hill, where patience has worn thin with Mr. Karzai, who must step down after elections this spring.
Rep. Howard McKeon (R., Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Obama administration had "allowed APPF to take over the military's contracted security, at additional cost and risk to the U.S., and now is letting a floundering, outgoing leader use it as political leverage against us—again putting our forces at risk."