NATO is pouring extra resources to set up an Afghan force to take over from private security firms after a report showed the Afghans are unlikely to be ready for the planned disbanding of private security companies in March, officials said Wednesday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered last year that security companies be disbanded because they were flouting Afghan laws and creating the equivalent of paramilitary forces.
But the process of shifting the guarding of convoys, development projects and the outside perimeters of NATO bases over to Afghan forces has been slow.
According to a U.S. government report released last month, the new force _ called the Afghan Public Protection Force, or APPF _ is short about 18,600 of the 25,000 guards needed to take over all the work currently performed by privately contracted guards.
Only about 615 guards have graduated from training programs, which were meant to turn out 500 guards every three weeks. The training programs have been hampered by a shortage of resources, insufficient infrastructure and health challenges, according to the report.
Recruitment has also been slow. All of the newly trained guards were previously working as private contractors, even though the plan calls for at least 11,000 recruits from outside of these companies.
The report concluded the APPF "is not on track to assume the responsibilities for security services" by the March 2012 target.
On Wednesday, a senior NATO official told reporters in the capital that the U.S.-led coalition is working with the Afghan government to speed up training and do what's needed to meet that target.
As part of this, Brig. Gen. Edward Dorman said that NATO is assigning an additional 150-170 advisers to get the program back on track. "I am confident that we are on the right path," he said.
Dorman declined to say how much the additional push would cost but said the money will come out of funds already allocated for improving the Afghan security forces. He said that the funds were not being taken away from any other initiatives.
Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Jamal Naser Saddiqi said that there are 46 security companies that still need to be disbanded _ 23 Afghan firms and 23 international. Saddiqi said that while the shift is happening slowly, he was confident that the goal was attainable.
Karzai's March deadline is not set in stone _ if the Afghan government is not ready to take over at the time, there is a provision for another 12-month extension that would allow for the private firms to continue operating.