KABUL — The Afghan government Sunday rolled back its plan to disband all private security firms, declaring that those protecting embassies and military bases could maintain those operations in the country.
President Hamid Karzai's office said firms "providing security for embassies, transport of diplomats, diplomatic residences, international forces' bases and depots can continue operation within these limits".
Karzai in August ordered that all private security contractors operating in the country, both Afghan and international, must cease operations by January 1, 2011.
The decree led to widespread concern that the deadline was too tight to find alternatives amid a deteriorating security situation, and fears that some diplomats and private companies would be forced to leave Afghanistan.
While the measure received widespread support in principle, diplomats, military officials and private security contractors have said Karzai's government has been under intense pressure to reconsider the blanket ban.
In a brief statement Sunday, Karzai's office said that "concerns expressed by NATO commanders and foreign embassies about the dissolution of private security companies" had been considered.
Firms not involved in military or diplomatic security would be dissolved as planned, it said.
"Other private security companies pose a serious threat to internal security and national sovereignty, and the dissolution process will continue with no exception," the statement said.
Afghan officials have said that more than 50 private security firms, about half of them Afghan, employ tens of thousands of armed personnel across the country.
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in a 2001 US-led invasion, private security firms rushed in to fill a vacuum created by a lack of adequately trained police and army forces.
In 2006 the Afghan authorities began registering, regulating and licensing the firms but there have been questions about the activities of some.
The firms provide security to the international forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organizations, embassies and Western media companies in Afghanistan.
But Afghans criticize the private security forces as overbearing and abusive, notably on the country's roads.