US blacklists Afghan security firm tied to Karzai

The move is part of US efforts to clean up a contracting process in Afghan that has been riddled with corruption.

Kabul: The US military is cutting ties with
an Afghan security firm run by relatives of President Hamid
Karzai that has been accused of bribing both government
officials and Taliban commanders, according to documents
obtained today.

The move is part of US efforts to clean up a contracting
process in Afghanistan that has been riddled with corruption
and allowed US funds to pass to insurgents.

It follows a Congressional report in June that said the
Watan Group bribed Afghan officials to get exclusive control
over a key NATO supply route in southern Afghanistan and paid
Taliban commanders to avoid attacks along the highway.

As of December 6, Watan has been given a "proposed
debarment status" which prevents it from signing new contracts
with the US government or renewing existing contracts -
according to US military letters sent to the company`s top
officers and obtained by The Associated Press. The action was
first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Watan subsidiary Watan Risk Management is headed by two
of Karzai`s cousins - Ahmed Rateb Popal and Rashid Popal.
According to the US military letters, the two acknowledged to
the bribes in the Congressional report and also told
Congressional staffers that company guards regularly use
illegal weapons, according to the letters.

A Watan representative confirmed the company received
the letters but stressed it had not violated any rules.

"The Watan Group takes the accusations of the army and
its actions seriously," said Simon Hilliard, the managing
director.

"The Watan Group believes it has been in full
compliance and that it can demonstrate this to the Army once
it is given its chance."

Watan has 30 days from the receipt of the letters to
submit its argument against the debarment. Hilliard said they
planned to reply. If their appeal is rejected, the temporary
ban will be extended for up to three years, according to the
letters.

If a full ban goes into effect, Watan will be the
seventh Afghan company or individual to be blocked from future
US contracts this year, according to a senior US military
official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because
the information was not officially released.

The Congressional report described a man known as
Commander Ruhullah - whose Kandahar security company is
affiliated with Watan - as a warlord with about 600 men.
Ruhullah, known as "the Butcher," uses his guards to control
Highway 1, the main route for transporting supplies between
Kabul and Kandahar, the report says.

Bureau Report

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