KABUL, Afghanistan, 17 Aug, 2010 -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has issued a law banning private security firms, including the company formerly known as Blackwater, from operating in the country. In a potentially massive security upheaval, these companies currently working in Afghanistan now have four months to disband.
"We've received complaints that these security forces, some of them, not all of them, have been involved in robbery, kidnapping and misusing their authority and power," Karzai's deputy spokesman, Hamed Elmi told ABC News.
As many as 40,000 people work for private security firms in Afghanistan. The decree stipulates that they will need to start hiring local people, many of them from the Afghan police force, to provide security in the future.
The decree is designed to facilitate the complete handover of security to Afghan governmental control. President Karzai, who spoke about the issue during the Kabul conference in July, wants the government to be more involved in internal security. The private firms now operate without consulting with the government.
The government fears that these private security companies are increasingly becoming more like private militias with no one enforcing any control over them.
There are 52 private security companies registered with the Afghan government. Among the U.S. companies impacted by the order is the contractor formerly known as Blackwater. In February, U.S. Senate investigators said the company hired violent drug users to help train the Afghan army and declared "sidearms for everyone" -- even though employees weren't authorized to carry weapons. The allegations came as part of an investigation into the 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians by employees of the company, now known as Xe.
The company also came under criticism for its operations in Iraq. In September 2007, Blackwater guards were involved in a gun battle in downtown Baghdad that resulted in 17 people killed.
The Afghan government has expressed confidence in its ability to take over all security responsibilities from the foreign forces by 2014.
"We can take over the duties and responsibilities of security. We have 4 months and in 4 months time our police will be able to carry out these duties. We have the potential but we also need the training." Elmi said.
But Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman questioned whether a four-month deadline was realistic.
"I think everyone looks forward to the day when private security companies can be eliminated altogether from Afghanistan because the security situation is such that they are no longer needed," Whitman said.
"Until that time, though, we're going to continue to work with the government of Afghanistan to improve the oversight and management as well as developing plans to progressively reduce their numbers as security conditions permit."
Protecting Foreigners in Afghanistan
Private security companies are important to the protection of foreigners working in Afghanistan, particularly in the more dangerous provinces. They provide a range of services, from escorting supply convoys for the military to protecting non-governmental organization (NGO) staff and foreign embassies.
Under the new law, embassies and NGO's can still use their own security personnel, but they will be allowed to operate only on their premises. They cannot provide security on the streets. By the end of this year they will have to employ local police.
The International Security Assistance Force, led by General David Petareus, issued a statement supporting the decree saying that, "this is an undertaking that requires a deliberate process, and ISAF pledges to work closely with the Afghan government to help make this transition successful, under a timeline that recognizes the scale and scope of this issue will take time to fully implement."
There have been a several incidents the have prompted increased scruting of the private security contractors.
In 2009, a private security contractor hired to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was exposed for holding lurid parties flowing with alcohol, with guards and supervisors photographed in various stages of nudity. A U.S. government investigation also found Amorgroup employees frequented Kabul brothels.
Last month, when a vehicle carrying four U.S. contract personnel was involved in a two-car accident near the airport in Kabul. There were fatalities and serious injuries among the Afghans involved in the accident. Local Afghans took to the streets in protest, chanting "death to America" and burning an SUV.
Another car accident near the airport involved DynCorp International personnel contracted by the U.S. Embassy. A number of Afghan citizens were injured in the accident and the U.S. embassy issued a statement saying that they were providing medical assistance and monitoring the injured.
News of incidents like these does not sit well in a country where civilian casualties are mounting and the international forces are often blamed for the deaths.
Elmi told ABC News that the Afghan people have been vocal in supporting this decree.
"'We've received a huge amount of messages from the Afghan people, that they are welcoming the news," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.