Word is trickling out now about a Taliban attack on workers and security guards that killed some 30 persons and wounded 15 others, while yet others were taken captive. The victims had been working on a road in Sangin, Helmand Province. Roads allow easier government penetration of provincial areas, and this consideration may have led to the Taliban attack. As guerrillas fighting an unconventional war, they do not want for it to be easier for the Kabul government to send in armored vehicles on paved roads.
The BBC says that the Durai Sangin security company asserted that its guards had at length fought the Taliban off before international assistance could arrive. The workers were building a road between Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and Sangin to its northeast.
It is not clear to me if this security company will come under the ban on such firms that has been decreed to begin on the first of January by President Hamid Karzai. There are some 24 security companies employing 26,000 security guards in Afghanistan, with about half of the guards being Afghan. These firms are widely felt to have infringed on Afghan sovereignty, to have acted high-handedly, and even to have been responsible for deaths of Afghan civilians. Karzai says that the Afghanistan police and army can take up the slack, but seasoned observers entertain the gravest doubts that they can actually do so. The Daily Times (Pakistan) writes, “General Abdul Hadi Khaled said the Afghan police force would not be ready to take on the security firms’ responsibilities for two or three years.”
Among the security firms that gave them all a bad name was Blackwater (now Xe), which has just had a huge $42 million fine levied against it, in part for illegally smuggling weapons into Afghanistan. The company’s founder, Eric Prince, is under several legal clouds, and has abruptly relocated to Dubai.
Security problems are also roiling plans to hold parliamentary elections in Afghanistan this fall, with the electoral commission unable to open voting stations in much of the Pashtun east and south of the country for fear of Taliban attacks. As the Irish Times puts it, fraud and corruption are expected to plague the elections,, not to mention that candidates are being threatened with violence. It should be remembered that political parties are still banned in Afghanistan, so that the elections are waged on a personalistic basis, and the situation is far from ideal.
The string of bad news comes as the results of a poll are released showing that nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose the Afghanistan War.. This number is up from past polls, pointing to the war’s increasing unpopularity.