The Role of Private Contractors and Security Firms in Afghanistan

As recently reported, both on this blog and elsewhere, Canada aims to play a role in Afghanistan even after the projected end of its military mission in 2011. Some of the ongoing projects in which Canada is involved are the construction of new schools in Kandahar, aiding in the implementation of a polio vaccination program and numerous irrigation projects, the most significant of which is the restoration of the Dahla Dam, a $50 million project aimed at both restoring a vital source of water for the area’s once strong agricultural sector as well as undermining the local production of opium. The Canadian government has recently gone so far as to hire a $200,000 Afghan-Canadian consultant to track the progress of these projects.

Since many of these projects are expected to last well beyond 2011 the role of providing security to civilian contractors will likely be filled by private contractors. We do not yet know who would garner these lucrative contracts but many of the potential bidders (GardaWorld, Optosecurity Inc.) have a history of controversy. A recent piece posted at The Dominion gives some background information on some of these security firms. Yet another option would be to employ US military personnel as security for Canadian civilians. A recent article posted on points out that on one hand, due to significant restructuring of the way modern states engage in warfare it is nearly impossible to engage in combat without the assitance of private contractors. Yet on the other hand the US experience in both Afghanistan and Iraq shows us that such arrangements are frought with difficulties, from lack of oversight to corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse. Although this piece refers specifically to the US expereince with private security contractors Canada should take head.

Some see the ending of Canada’s military mission in 2011 as a positive step as this will allow for a shift away from combat and a renewed focus on reconstruction and aid. Others simply argue that due to the entanglement of private contractors, engineers and security forces in what is still essentially a combat mission simply marks the militarization of Canada’s role in reconstcution. Regardless of what shapes Canada’s mission takes post-2011, in one form or another Canada’s foreign policy is likely to be deeply entangled in Afghanistan for a long time to come.

Tags: Afghanistan, Dahla dam, Private security firms