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U.S. may hire private guards in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON – U.S. military authorities in Afghanistan may hire a private contractor to provide around-the-clock security at dozens of bases and protect vehicle convoys moving throughout the country.

The possibility of awarding a security contract comes as the Obama administration is sending thousands of more troops into Afghanistan to quell rising violence fueled by a resurgent Taliban. As the number of American forces grow over the next several months, so too does the demand to guard their outposts.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he wants to cut back on the use of contractors that now provide a wide range services to American troops in war zones, including transportation, communications, food service, construction, and maintenance. As recently as February, however, Gates called the use of private security contractors in certain parts of Afghanistan “vital” to supporting U.S. bases. A contract for the work also creates job opportunities for Afghans, he said.

But the use of private contractors in Iraq has been highly contentious. Since a September 2007 shooting of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad by guards employed by Blackwater (now Xe Services), critics have urged U.S. officials to maintain much tighter controls over hired guards.


 

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N. Korea, setting stage for talks, halts nuclear, ICBM tests

UPDATED: 10:03 p.m.

North Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North’s announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal.