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A soldier from A Company, second Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI), is silhouetted by the moon as he keeps night watch at Forward Operating Base Masum Gar in Panjwayi district, Kandahar province, 7 November 2006.JOHN D MCHUGH

The Canadian Forces will review several contracts it has with private security companies in Kandahar following an order from President Hamid Karzai that the firms cease operations in Afghanistan.

Canada has nine contracts worth $9-million this fiscal year with four companies to provide security at its forward operating bases.

"Our troops benefit from both the important services and invaluable local knowledge provided by these individuals," Capt. Yves Desbiens, a spokesman for Canada's Task Force Kandahar, said Wednesday.

"With these arrangements in place, Canadian Forces personnel are able to focus their efforts on the tasks that deliver the greatest value to the mission."

The Afghan president issued a decree Tuesday ordering tens of thousands of security contractors currently working in Afghanistan to either join the Afghan police force or cease operations within four months.

The Afghan government contends the private firms poach the best Afghan army and police personnel trained by NATO, when the Afghan national security forces are already struggling to fill their ranks.

Private security personnel perform sentry duty at many remote coalition military bases in Kandahar province and throughout Afghanistan. There are up to 40,000 such private guards at work in Afghanistan, protecting military convoys, Afghan and international government workers, aid agency employees and military installations.

The decree from Mr. Karzai includes an exception for private security firms working inside compounds used by international groups, including embassies, businesses and non-governmental organizations. But outside those compounds they will be banned.

Some critics say the hired guns are no more than armed, dangerous mercenaries. An investigation last year found evidence that some companies paid Taliban for safe passage of their convoys through insurgent strongholds.

A private security company was initially blamed for the August 2008 death of Master Cpl. Josh Roberts, an infantryman based in Shilo, Man., who died following a confused firefight involving coalition forces, insurgents and security personnel from a civilian convoy in Zhari district near Kandahar city.

A military police investigation concluded Roberts died from a Taliban bullet, but his family has questioned that conclusion.

The Canadian Forces pointed out that private security guards - Afghans hired by the contractors - are never used in offensive operations.

Like all NATO countries, said Capt. Desbiens, Canada relies on private firms under contract with NATO to provide security for supply convoys through Pakistan.

American officials have voiced agreement that private security firms should be eliminated but questioned whether a four-month deadline is realistic.

Capt. Desbiens said it's too soon to speculate on what impact Mr. Karzai's decree will have on Canadian military operations in Kandahar.

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