CHURCHILL, Man. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the Afghan government’s recent decision to kick private security contractors out of the country will “complicate” Canada’s exit strategy.
Just how much of a monkey wrench has been thrown into the works remains unclear.
Ottawa plans to end combat operations next July but it plans to continue with a diplomatic and development mission.
Harper says questions about how to protect both diplomats and aid workers once Canadian soldiers depart are “difficult” to answer — even more so since Afghan President Hamid Karzai decreed that private security contractors are no longer welcome.
“I will certainly concede that President Karzai’s recent decision will complicate some of those choices in the future but I’m not in a position today to answer those questions but we are working on them,” Harper said Tuesday.
A report in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail said Ottawa plans to spend up to $600-million over three years in Afghanistan to prevent the country from becoming a “haven for terrorists.”
The Conservative government has been tight-lipped about how Canada will remain involved in the war-ravaged country after the latest combat mission mandate expires. Defence Minister Peter MacKay hinted last spring that Ottawa was prepared to send a contingent of civilian police trainers.
But many in the defence community have suggested the Harper government is waiting for a U.S. progress report on the war, expected later this year, before finalizing Canada’s plans.
Critics have long insisted that given the rise in Taliban violence it’s almost impossible to protect Canadian civilians without the presence of the army.
Even with the army on the ground, defence analysts have argued private security contractors are needed to guard places like the embassy, development projects and even forward bases.
Private security personnel perform sentry duty for the most part.
The Canadian military has nine contracts worth $9 million this year with four companies to provide security at its forward operating bases. Foreign Affairs also employs private guards but details on its contracts are unclear.
Last week, Karzai ordered all private security contractors out of the country by the end of year — a declaration that startled NATO, but is founded on the growing perception that the hired guns are running wild.
Karzai also gave the contractors the option of joining the country’s security forces.
There are up to 40,000 private guards at work in Afghanistan.
Any post-2011 Canadian civilian mission in Afghanistan would most certainly involve some kind of private security.
Ottawa quietly signed on to a declaration in late 2008 that mandated it and other nations to keep tighter control of hired guns.
The Montreaux document was brought about after employees of a U.S. contractor formerly known as Blackwater were implicated in the deaths of Iraqis civilians.