Washington: The number of private security personnel working for the US military in Afghanistan rose to 18,919 at the end of last year, the highest level used in any conflict by the United States, a congressional report said.
The Congressional Research Service report said that the number of private security contractor personnel in Afghanistan has more than tripled since June 2009.
The firms provide security across violence-wracked Afghanistan to groups ranging from foreign militaries and embassies to non-governmental organizations to media companies.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been seeking to disband private security contractors, charging that they loot and steal, have links to criminal groups and might even fund insurgents.
The report, dated February 21, said that the number of private contractors in Afghanistan overtook the number in Iraq in 2009.
Around 95 percent of those employed by private security firms in Afghanistan were Afghan nationals, with one percent Americans and remaining four percent from other countries, the report said.
Members of Congress are concerned about abuses by the private contractors, and the report cited fears that such incidents can undermine the US-led war effort in Afghanistan.
"From 2006 to 2009, private security contractors escorting supply convoys to coalition bases have been blamed for killing and wounding more than 30 innocent civilians in Afghanistan`s Maywand district alone, leading to at least one confrontation with US forces," the report said.
"And in May 2010, US and Afghan officials reportedly stated that local Afghan security contractors protecting NATO supply convoys in Kandahar `regularly fire wildly into villages they pass, hindering coalition efforts to build local support.`"
US government investigations have also found that US money for contracts in Afghanistan have been used to pay the Taliban in exchange for security, the report noted.
In addition to the Defense Department, other US agencies employ private security firms, including the State Department.