KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's president has issued an order to thousands of private security contractors he says are undermining his nation's army and police force: Cease operations in four months.
President Hamid Karzai's decision, announced Monday by his spokesman, is expected to meet resistance from NATO officials who rely heavily on private security companies to guard convoys and installations across the country.
With complaints that they are poorly regulated, reckless and effectively operate outside local law, such operators have become a point of contention between the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO coalition forces and the international community.
"The security companies have to go," presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said Monday as he announced the deadline.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman questioned whether a four-month deadline was realistic.
"I think everyone looks forward to the day when private security companies can be eliminated altogether from Afghanistan because the security situation is such that they are no longer needed," Whitman said.
"Until that time, though, we're going to continue to work with the government of Afghanistan to improve the oversight and management as well as developing plans to progressively reduce their numbers as security conditions permit," he said.
Karzai pledged in his inauguration speech in November to shutter both foreign and domestic security contractors by November 2011. Now, according to Omar, Karzai is expected to take action more quickly and issue a decree to outline how the companies should cease operations.
"Within four months, all private security companies will be disbanded," Omar said without providing details.