KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan police arrested two British private security contractors and two Afghan colleagues after finding a cache of weapons in their vehicle, an official said Thursday. They are being held pending an investigation into illegal arms transport.
Their detention is the latest trouble for Afghanistan's dozens of private security companies that guard supply convoys, development projects and private businesses. President Hamid Karzai has ordered all the protection companies shut down this year and replaced by a unified government-run protection force.
Police who stopped the contractor's vehicle at a Kabul checkpoint Tuesday found more than two dozen AK-47 rifles in a metal box covered by a blanket, Ministry of Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqi told a press briefing.
All 30 weapons had their serial numbers scratched off and the men had no permits for them, so police arrested all four men on suspicion of illegal arms transport, Sediqi said. He said the case has been sent to Afghanistan's attorney general for investigation.
Authorities also ordered the immediate shutdown of Afghanistan operations of their company, the international security consulting firm GardaWorld, and are questioning other company employees.
"They have to pay all the dues they owe to the government of Afghanistan, and they cannot operate any more after that," Sediqi said.
GardaWorld had no immediate comment Thursday. The security firm specializes in high-risk areas around the world, with offices in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Haiti.
A spokesman for the British Embassy said it monitoring the case and providing consular services to the two British citizens.
Afghanistan has been scrambling to train guards for its own government security service — called the Afghan Public Protection Force, or APPF — since Karzai late last year ordered all 103 private security companies closed by March 2012.
Karzai has said the private security firms undermine the Afghan police and army forces — creating effective militias that often flout Afghan laws and regulations.
So far, 57 of the private companies have been disbanded, Sediqi said Thursday. Another 46 — half of them Afghan firms and half international — are still operating but officials have vowed to close them by March, according to the Interior Ministry.
The new Afghan force will need to train 25,000 guards needed to take over all the work currently performed by privately contracted guards, according to a U.S. government report released in October.
Recruitment has been slow. As of late last year, the APPF had only about 6,500 guards trained, the same U.S. report said.