U.S. embassy in Kabul hit with misconduct allegations

KABUL Wed Sep 2, 2009 9:03am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy in Kabul said on Wednesday it was reviewing its security policy following allegations its guards engaged in drunken brawls and lewd behavior that put its diplomats at risk in the Afghan capital.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight said private guards from the security company ArmorGroup held parties in their camp where they stripped near naked, drank vodka and abused locals.

Along with serious under-staffing and other shortcomings, it said the situation undermined security at the sprawling compound at a time of growing violence in Afghanistan.

The U.S. embassy said it took the allegations seriously.

"We have taken immediate steps to review all local guard force policies and procedures and have taken all possible measures to ensure our security is sound," it said in a statement.

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of all embassy personnel -- Americans and Afghan -- and respect for the cultural and religious values of all Afghans."

ArmorGroup employs 450 guards to provide security at the embassy under a five-year, $189 million contract that was extended in June.

The company is a subsidiary of Florida-based Wackenhut Services Inc. A spokeswoman, Susan Pitcher, said the firm had no immediate comment on the report.

The findings were the latest in a string of allegations of misconduct by private security contractors hired by the U.S. government to perform duties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In its letter, the group said the contractors fostered a "Lord of the Flies environment" that was built on abuse and humiliating rituals.

It quoted witnesses as saying they had seen guards "peeing on people" and drinking "vodka shots out of (buttock) cracks".

In one case, a supervisor wearing underwear and brandishing bottles of alcohol abused an Afghan national by grabbing his face and using strong language to humiliate him, it said.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)

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