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Afghanstan war: Convoy security deal to benefit Karzai's brother?

An Afghan private contractor in Kandahar, with close ties to Karzai's brother, is up for a contract to protect supply convoys for US troops in the Afghanistan war.

By Dion NissenbaumMcClatchy Newspapers / May 23, 2010

Ahmed Wali Karzai, a half-brother of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 14.

Rahmat Gul/AP

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is weighing approval of an expansive new business deal that could give his controversial half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, increased influence over the lucrative security business that protects supply convoys for U.S.-led forces in southern Afghanistan.

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As American strategists prepare military and political moves to extend government control in Kandahar this summer, President Karzai has before him a plan that would give a key ally of his half-brother the power to run the newly created Kandahar Security Company.

If approved quickly, the deal could allow the firm to obtain millions of dollars in contracts this summer as the U.S. military sends thousands of additional troops into southern Afghanistan.

Top Afghan officials say they're backing the deal as a way to gain control over rival security firms that have sometimes engaged in violent clashes over multi-million-dollar contracts in the Afghanistan war.

Karzai's critics view the security consolidation as a covert effort to solidify Ahmed Wali Karzai's already-unrivaled hold on power in Kandahar. His grip on the city is widely seen as a major obstacle to establishing good local governance, a critical requirement for the success of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency operation.

"The concern seems to me to be that he may be creating a security force which responds to him and subverts the formal institutions and formal security forces of the Afghan state," said Carl Forsberg, a research analyst and Afghan specialist at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

During the past eight years, Afghan security companies have established themselves as formidable rivals for their Western competitors. There are about 50 registered security firms — Afghan and international — in the country.

A 2,500-man security detail

The pending proposal from the Afghan Interior Ministry calls for consolidation of about two-dozen small, lightly regulated security companies under the command of a Kandahar-based security mogul known simply as Ruhullah.

Ruhullah told McClatchy the deal would allow him to create a 2,500-person security firm to provide protection for NATO supply convoys in southern Afghanistan. This would make his firm by far the biggest of its kind in Afghanistan.

Although the Interior Ministry said the proposal would allow the new Kandahar Security Company to hire only 500 people immediately, it would still put Ruhullah in charge of a significant armed force in Kandahar.

Some analysts worry that Ahmed Wali Karzai could use the new force to thwart any attempt during the U.S.-backed drive in Kandahar to supplant him and the network of relatives and tribal leaders with whom he's allied.

"If we're actually trying to build strong, unified security services, this is not good that we have this consolidation of private security companies that, by appearances, is much more powerful than the government forces," said Forsberg, who recently published a well-received report on Kandahar power brokers.

Ahmed Wali Karzai will help

Ahmed Wali Karzai played down any power he might have over the new security firm. Karzai told McClatchy that he'd play no direct role in running the business, but would help the company drum up business.

"I will play my role and use my influence to organize them," said Karzai, who's the head of the Kandahar provincial council. "These people need some support."

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