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Explainer: The Afghan Public Protection Force

A Blue Hackle officer (left) hands over a gun to a soldier from the Afghan Public Protection Forces during a ceremony on the outskirts of Kabul in March.
Time is running out for companies operating in Afghanistan to make the switch from private security firms to a protection force operated by the Afghan government. What is the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), what are its advantages and disadvantages, and is it up to the task of protecting aid agencies and supply convoys?

What is the Afghan Public Protection Force?

The Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) is a government-controlled security force. For companies operating in Afghanistan, it is a major issue because, under an Afghan initiative intended to scale down the massive and lucrative private security industry, Afghan government employees' protection will depend on this new force.

The corps is part of the Afghan Interior Ministry and, initially, was to take charge of security for nearly all entities other than military bases and diplomatic missions by March 20. Just days before the deadline, seeing that many companies had not yet worked out contractual arrangements with the forces and apparently hoping to avoid security gaps, companies were given an additional 30 to 90 days to do so, depending on the riskiness of their business. For example, those involved in lower-risk roles such as reconstruction projects get 30 days. Companies carrying out what are deemed high-risk jobs, such as running supply convoys, get 90 days.

Ultimately the initiative is part of a government effort to eliminate parallel institutions -- meaning instances where the government, foreign militaries, or private firms are all essentially carrying out the same function.

Interior Ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqi explained that 57 private security companies have so far been dissolved and their responsibilities taken over by the APPF.

What will its role be?

In return for contract payments, the APPF will provide security to aid projects, company offices, and convoys transporting supplies for NATO-led international security forces. Some private security firms will continue to provide security to diplomatic missions and military bases because the APPF is not mandated to provide security to such sensitive installations.

So far, 16 companies have switched over to seek protection from the APPF, while 75 more are negotiating their terms with the force.

Who will be training the APPF?

All security personnel working for the protection force, which will eventually replace an estimated 11,000 guards working for private firms, will go through standard training courses supervised by Afghan and Western trainers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Siddiqi says that 8,000 guards have already been trained and that number is likely to grow to 18,000 as the force absorbs personnel who are currently working for private security companies.

He says on individuals who have worked for such private companies and who have clean criminal records may be part of the new organization. "They will have to go through standard recruitment procedures and will be background-checked by the [Afghan] intelligence [service]," Siddiqi says.

Where did the idea originate?

President Hamid Karzai has opposed the large number of "guns-for-hire" in his country for years. In 2009, he set a three-year deadline for all the security companies to disband into the APPF.

Lawmaker Shukria Barakzai, who sits on the Afghan parliaments' defense committee, says a large part of the international assistance to Afghanistan has been spent on security. She says the Afghan government had no role in awarding contracts to the security companies. Such contracts were often granted to Western security firms who subcontracted the work to Afghan strongmen, she complains, creating a major avenue for abuse and corruption.

"Sometimes, these contractors paid [the Taliban] to create insecurity," Barakzai says. "There were instances when the same company performed two roles: Half of the company's employees would accompany a NATO convoy for security, while the remaining members of the same company would attack the same convoy in the garb of the armed opposition to extract more money."

Who loses and who gains?

The creation of the APPF should dramatically reduce the number of foreigners acting as security contractors in Afghanistan. It will also deprive some major Western security firms of their lucrative security contracts with donors and aid agencies. So the security firms, both Afghan and international, that blossomed over the past decade are the biggest obvious losers.

But concerns may be growing at some companies that rely on those private firms for their protection, as worries have been expressed about having to rely on local security guards whose training and procedures they do not control.

On the ground in Afghanistan, it will look more like a compromise arrangement. The APPF will retain most of the guards working with security companies but is expected to make their work more accountable and transparent. In addition, the APPF has already licensed 14 risk-management companies. They will act as a bridge between reconstruction firms and the APPF to help manage payments, personnel, and ensure accountability of the Afghan security guards.

Lawmaker Barakazai says the arrangement is expected to work well for the Afghan government, foreign forces, and development companies. However, she also says "we are worried that such institutions undermine our regular police forces. We need a [professional] police for maintaining security and establishing the rule of law. Creating such institutions leaves us little time and money to focus on creating our professional police cadres, which Afghanistan needs to have forever."
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.

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