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Afghanistan Graduates Much-Needed Bodyguards


Afghanistan is deploying Italian-trained bodyguards to provide personal protection to government ministers following two high-level assassinations this year. A company of Italian Protection Force instructors has been working in Afghanistan since March to train a corps of 250 Afghan bodyguards.

The training took on added urgency last month, when unidentified gunmen assassinated Vice President Abdul Qadir as he left his office at the public works ministry. He had refused bodyguard protection.

In January, Civil Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman was killed at the airport in Kabul in the early days of the interim government, which took power in December.

No one has been charged in either murder, and both cases remain unsolved.

The bodyguard training has been led by members of Italy's elite Carabineri force, which includes paratroops, policemen, and soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel Claudio d'Angelo commands the Italian trainers. He says the instability that led to the assassinations will pose special risks to the new Afghan bodyguards.

"Surely the challenge is the environment," he said, "because we know that the situation is very dangerous, potentially very dangerous. So we know that we have to train them very well."

Among the newly trained bodyguards is Mohammed Asef, of the northern province of Badakhshan. He says he has been working in the Afghan security service, but he decided he will have a better future as a bodyguard.

Mr. Asef says he is not doing it for the money. He will only make about $50 a month. However, he says has more patriotic motives.

Mr. Asef says he has chosen to be a bodyguard because it is a way he can help protect his country. He says that as time goes by, he hopes Afghanistan becomes more peaceful, and his new job becomes less risky.

Before the graduation certificates are handed out, some of the new bodyguards put on a display of their skills for the dignitaries gathered at Kabul's soccer stadium.

As the bodyguards pretend to escort an official toward his car, two Carabineri burst into the stadium, posing as terrorist gunmen and firing blanks.

A team of five bodyguards shove the fake VIP to the ground, then lie on top of him. The assailants retreat as other guards pretend to fire back. Then the bodyguards stuff the man they are protecting into his vehicle, and speed away. The audience applauds.

Like Afghanistan's new foreign-trained army, the bodyguard service is a work in progress. Its effectiveness has not been tested, and it will have to win the trust of top-level officials.

Some cabinet officers have continued to rely on protection from trusted aides who guarded them during Afghanistan's long civil war.

And last month transitional President Hamid Karzai added American bodyguards to his Afghan security team. He now takes a squad of heavily armed American guards with him when he leaves the presidential palace.

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