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US: Afghan Deadline for Security Firms 'Challenging'

The United States has promised to work with the Afghan government on reducing the need for private security firms, after President Hamid Karzai gave the companies four months to cease operations in the country.

Mr. Karzai said Monday the firms undermine the work of Afghan security forces by creating a parallel security structure.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. agrees that security should eventually be provided exclusively by the Afghan government, but added that "four months is a very challenging deadline."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.S. and Afghan governments share the objective of eliminating the need for private security companies.

But he added that "until that time, Washington is going to continue to work with Kabul to improve the oversight and management as well as developing plans to progressively reduce their numbers as security conditions permit."

NATO officials said dissolving the companies will be possible once the Afghan army and police are capable of providing the security that private companies currently offer, including protecting officials, troops and supply convoys.

More than 50 international and Afghan security firms operate in Afghanistan, employing at least 30,000 people.

In violence Monday, NATO said that an al-Qaida operative was among two insurgents killed in an air strike in northern Kunduz province. Elsewhere in Kunduz, a roadside bomb killed an Afghan child and wounded three others.

In the western province of Farah, insurgents killed a government official and a police officer, while Afghan police in southern Kandahar province seized nearly 17 tons of ammonium nitrate, a key component of roadside bombs.

NATO said it was also investigating the cause of a drone crash Monday in eastern Kunar province bordering Pakistan.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.