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Karzai declares next step in disbanding security firms

NATO chief to visit Russia for summit, Afghan talks

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President Hamid Karzai announced on Wednesday the creation of a joint commission to establish a timetable for winding up private firms providing security for major development projects in Afghanistan.

Karzai signed a decree on August 17 prohibiting the 52 international and Afghan private security companies which operate in Afghanistan by the end of the year, excepting teams protecting embassies and international forces bases.

The president blames private security companies for swallowing up a large proportion of international aid and for fuelling corruption and undermining the development of the Afghan security forces.

"For a rapid implementation of Presidential Decree 62 on the dissolution of private security companies, President Hamid Karzai has ordered the establishment of a committee led by the Minister of Interior and participated by representatives from NATO-ISAF and major international donors," the Afghan presidency said in a statement.

The committee will submit its timetable to the president on November 15, the statement said. Once the plan is approved, firms will have 90 days to disband.

"Following the completion of plan's implementation, the government of Afghanistan will assume responsibility for providing necessary security for development and reconstruction projects," the presidency added.

The international community fears the ruling could undermine development programs in the war-torn country.

NATO and Russia on Afghan talks

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen will visit Russia next week for talks on deepening Russian cooperation on Afghanistan and to lay the groundwork for a major summit, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Rasmussen will meet President Dmitry Medvedev on November 5 to see if the two sides can "move forward" on a NATO request for Moscow to provide around 20 helicopters to Afghan forces, said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.

The two sides will discuss whether Russia can also provide training for Afghan helicopter pilots, he said, stressing that there are no plans for Russian forces to be stationed in Afghanistan.

Russia already assists in the training of counter-narcotics officials outside Moscow to combat the Afghan heroin trade.

"There will be work to see if we can enhance our cooperation in training counter-narcotics officials," Appathurai added.

The discussion will also touch on the possibility of "broadening" a transit arrangement in which Russia allows NATO to use its territory to ferry non-lethal supplies for troops in Afghanistan, he said.

NATO wants the rail transit to travel into and out of Afghanistan via Russia and include weapons, a NATO official said on condition of anonymity. At the moment, the supplies can only travel one way, from Russia to Afghanistan.

Rasmussen's visit will take place ahead of a summit between the 28-nation Western military alliance and Russia in Lisbon on November 20, right after NATO leaders hold their own meeting.

It will be the first NATO-Russia summit since Russia's war with Georgia in August 2008 caused a freeze in relations that lasted several months.

NATO leaders are expected to agree at their summit on the need for the military alliance to launch an anti-missile shield to protect their populations.

Appathurai reiterated that NATO would invite Russia to cooperate in the project, which will likely be a topic of discussion between Rasmussen and Russian officials next week.

Moscow has been suspicious about the purpose of the missile shield plans despite assurances from NATO that it was not aimed at Russia but rather at countering the threat of an attack from Iran.

Medvedev stressed last week that Moscow needed to hear more about the project.

The Russians and NATO also diverge on the movement for conventional forces, especially near their borders.

In 2007, Russia unilaterally froze the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty agreed two decades ago, which sets limits on troops and heavy weapons from the Atlantic coast to the Ural mountains.

"We share the interest stated by the Russian government in transparency when it comes to the numbers and movement of conventional forces in Europe," Appathurai said, noting that allies wanted to "re-energize" the treaty.

"We certainly hope that Russia would see this process of re-energizing the CFE as an opportunity to enhance the transparency of conventional forces in Europe," he said.