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26th Feb 2021

Investigation

EU to spend €50mn on private security in Afghanistan

  • Some estimates say up to 40,000 private security staff currently work in the war-torn country (Photo: Nato/Liepke Plancke/AVDD/RNLAF)

The EU's external action service (EEAS) plans to spend up to €50 million on private security guards for its Afghanistan mission over the next four years.

It unveiled the tender on Thursday (10 May), saying the money would be spent on "protection of staff, their families in the country, visitors from headquarters or other EU institutions, the premises and the goods of the EU delegation in Afghanistan."

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The contract - valued at between €30 million and €50 million plus VAT - is to cover at least 100 security guards, as well as "mobile patrol teams, equipment [and] armoured cars."

It is aiming to sign up a big company with prior experience in Afghanistan - the winning bidder must have an annual turnover of at least €20 million and 400 staff.

Five companies are eligible to compete - the Hungarian-based Argus, Canada's Gardaworld, British firms G4S and Page Group, and French company Geos - after getting on an EEAS private security shortlist last year.

The tender also stipulates applicants must present "an official document issued from the competent Afghan authority that certifies that the company is entitled to operate security services in Afghanistan" before the contract is signed.

It must also "be compliant with the Karzai decree concerning private security companies in Afghanistan (Presidential Decree 62)," referring to a ruling by Afghan leader Hamid Karzai in 2010 regulating the sector.

The EEAS has faced criticism for its handling of a recent tender on Libya after it signed a €10 million contract with G4S despite the fact it does not have permission from Libya's post-war authority, the National Transitional Council (NTC), to operate on its territory. The EEAS says it does not need permission. But the NTC says it does.

The legal situation in Afghanistan creates room for confusion.

Decree 62 initially envisaged booting out all private security firms after a series of scandals. President Karzai later allowed derogations for embassy security and kept postponing the deadline for implementation, with the EEAS currently unsure if it is in force yet or not.

The EU compound in Kabul is home to around 75 people when it is fully staffed. Talks are ongoing to bunch up with the Kabul embassies of a number of smaller EU countries in future to save money.

The delegation is currently guarded by Page Group, which employs Gurkhas - Nepalese-origin former soldiers who are respected by EU security chiefs for their "consistency" - the ability to maintain vigilance at a lookout post for hours on end whether in minus-20-degrees-Celsius Kabul winters or plus-45-degree summers.

Foreign companies and embassies were aghast at the original form of the Karzai decree after a number of incidents in which locally-hired security staff attacked their own employers.

EU men with guns: A comedy of errors

The EU foreign service just did a U-turn on a €50mn tender for bodyguards in Kabul, with leaked documents posing questions how a British firm with a frightening track record won it in the first place.

Investigation

G4S: the EU's preferred security contractor

The British multinational security company G4S lost its contract with the European Parliament in 2011 in a backlash from MEPs over alleged abuses in Israel. Today, they guard the parliament's main entrance and have become the EU's top security provider.

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