Wartime Contracting changing in Afghanistan

Wednesday - 8/18/2010, 10:08am EDT

Mike Thibault, Co-Chairman, Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan

Click below to hear the interview

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Afghanistan's president is issuing an ultimatum to thousands of private security contractors: Cease operations in four months.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday that U.S. officials want clarification and more details. "Four months is a very challenging deadline."

Mike Thibault, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan was a little more blunt-spoken when he told Federal News Radio, "It's going to be really tough to do that within four months."

Thibault, just back from his latest trip to Afghanistan explained to the Federal Drive that private security companies should be considered in two groups: site security and convoy or movement security. It's the latter that is the bigger concern. "The local Afghan villages and towns have a real issue with private security contractors and they feel they're disrespected and they feel there's no accountability."

The perception, explained Thibault is that convoys moving food, supplies, logistical equipment, and fuel are "just highballing it right through the villages" without stopping. "They think they own the roads," a Kabul university student recently told Reuters, saying "ordinary Afghans were harassed by their macho behaviour and driving," according to the news service.

Thibault told the Federal Drive oversight of convoy security is the irritant. "That's where the rub is right now with the Afghan government."

Otherwise, he said there's every indication there is no problem with site security, especially when it comes to oversight. "Frankly they have done an exceptional job of identifying those individuals and providing training. It's not a perfect world, but it's clearly a priority now from the top down, and it had not been a year, or especially two years ago when we first started this."

The real challenge in meeting the deadline, said Thibault, is not whether the Afghanis will be ready, but when.

What we're really talking about is if there's going to be security, and there aren't private security contractors, then the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police would logically have to provide that security and the real question is are they up for it yet. And with the massive training that's going on right now, which is an aggressive military priority, it's really questionable whether the ANA and ANPR are up for that, at least countrywide.

For more about the commission team's latest visit to Afghanistan, including learning about a scam involving Filipino contractors, listen to the interview linked above.