Washington: Afghanistan`s President Hamid Karzai defended his decision to disband private security contractors, charging that they loot and steal, have links to criminal groups and might even fund insurgents.
Karzai issued orders on Saturday to immediately begin dismantling the security firms, which are believed to number around 40,000 and are extensively used to protect embassies and offices, guard bases and escort convoys.
They are supposed to be completely eliminated within four months, posing a huge challenge for the US and NATO forces at a time of rising insurgent violence.
But in an interview with ABC`s `This Week` Karzai argued that the billions of dollars spent on private security firms has diverted resources from the training and equipping of the Afghan security forces.
"We will provide a basis for those security companies who are providing protection to embassies and to aid organisations within their compounds and who escort diplomats or representatives of foreign governments in Afghanistan from place to place.”
"But we will definitely not allow them to be on the roads, in the bazaars, in the streets, on the highways, and we will not allow them to provide protection to supply lines," he said. "That is the job of the Afghan government and the Afghan police."
He said that private security firms were "running a parallel security structure to the Afghan government."
"I am appealing to the US taxpayer not to allow their hard-earned money to be wasted on groups that are not only providing lots of inconveniences to the Afghan people, but actually are, God knows, in contact with Mafia-like groups and perhaps also funding militants and insurgents and terrorists through those firms."
The private security firms, he said, were "looting and stealing from the Afghan people... causing a lot of harassment to our civilians."
"We don`t know whether they are security companies at daytime and then some of them turn into terroristic groups at nighttime," he said.
On the broader war against Taliban insurgents, Karzai said the counter-insurgency campaign was "absolutely winnable" but there was also a "clear" path for future peace talks.
"Of course, there are individual contacts with some Taliban elements -- that`s not yet a formal process," he said.
"The roadmap is clear. The indications for peace would be that Afghanistan will be ready to talk to those Taliban powers who belong to Afghanistan and are not part of al Qaeda, who are not part of any other terrorist network, who accept the Afghanistan Constitution and the progress that we have achieved in the past so many years," he said.
Meanwhile, a leading US voice on Afghanistan and military issues, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is just back from Afghanistan, said on Sunday that after long opposing a US troop drawdown there, he has had a change of heart.
"I think we can transition next summer some areas of Afghanistan to Afghan control," the influential Republican lawmaker told CBS television`s ‘Face the Nation’ program.
He said that as recently as six weeks ago, he did not think it was advisable to remove US troops from Afghanistan, but that conditions there now are considerably improved.
"It`s due to progress I`ve seen on the ground. It has to continue. It will always be conditions-based... I see progress I had not seen before," he said.
"I see a scenario, if things continue to develop the way they are, that certain areas of Afghanistan can be transitioned to Afghan control, and we could remove some troops safely without undermining the overall war mission."
But, Graham added, "at the end of the day, the president has to let the Afghan people, the regional players know, the American people know that we`re not going to leave until we`re successful."
The death toll has continued to climb as violence surges ahead of next month`s Parliamentary Elections. Four were killed on Sunday in separate incidents in eastern and western Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.
Karzai said he believes that it is possible to prevail against the Taliban despite recent military setbacks.
"In order for us to do that, we must end the business as usual and we must begin to re-examine whether we are doing everything correctly -- whether we are doing the right things and whether we are having the support of the Afghan people," he said.
"We must provide protection to the Afghan people rather than causing civilian casualties, we must end corruption and corrupt practices in Afghanistan -- done by the international community by the way contracts are given."