Aug 30, 2010
Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, signed a decree on August 17 to dissolve private military companies still operating in the country.
These foreign contractors are deeply involved as mercenaries in the war. They include such notorious U.S. companies as Blackwater, which the Iraqi government kicked out in 2007, after its attacks on civilians.
There are 40,000 mercenaries in Afghanistan, employed both by U.S. and Afghan companies. The U.S. government has a political and an economic interest in these arrangements. These companies employ cheap Afghan manpower, costing much less than employing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. And their use reduces the number of dead Americans that have to be explained to the population back home.
The links between these companies and the U.S. army are close. The top officials of the private U.S. military companies are generally retired army officers. These private contractors have a lot of control over the Afghan army. For example, the employees of Military Professional Resources Inc. work at different levels in the hierarchy of the Afghan security forces. This company has trained the heads of the Afghan National Army.
Some commentators want to see in Karzai’s decree a desire for independence with respect to the U.S. But what can “independence” mean in a country at war, shaken by revolts, where the government power is only maintained by the presence of the U.S. occupation army?
The Pentagon does not speak in favor of dismantling the role of the military contractors. Instead the U.S. military proposes a much slower withdrawal than Karzai does. In fact, it’s hard to dismantle a force of 40,000 mercenaries in a country where the population has no reason to trust its own army, police nor local leaders.
These companies toss around a lot of money. They even pay bribes to the local opposition forces in order to get military convoys through zones where the insurgents are strong. Local opponents of Karzai thus tax U.S. and European convoys, embarrassing the Westerners, along with the taxes they extract from the opium trade.
But whether it is Afghan mercenaries or foreign mercenaries, employed by the Pentagon or linked to Karzai, it makes little difference to the Afghan population continuing to suffer from the war.