South African contractor held for killing Afghan guard

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan Sat Oct 3, 2009 10:34am EDT

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A South African security contractor working on a U.S. anti-drugs project in southern Afghanistan's Helmand is being held for shooting dead an Afghan colleague, Afghan police said on Saturday.

Helmand Province police chief Asadullah Sherzad said the contractor, head of the Helmand office of a security firm, had shot the guard after a quarrel inside the firm's compound in Lashkar Gah, capital of Afghanistan's most violent province.

Violence and inappropriate behavior by security contractors frequently anger Afghan authorities. In the most recent scandal, the U.S. embassy fired guards from the firm Armor Group North America after photographs of contractors engaged in sexual hazing rituals appeared on the Internet.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul said the incident had taken place at a project jointly run by the United States and Afghanistan's counter-narcotics ministry.

Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email that the Afghan security guard was told he was to lose his job and when he returned to the compound he and the contractor had quarreled and the guard had been killed. She said U.S. officials were cooperating with Afghan authorities investigating the incident.

This year has already been the deadliest of the eight-year-old war for Western troops.

Helmand produces most of the world's opium, and has been a stronghold of insurgents and drug traders. U.S. Marines and British forces carried out the two biggest military operations of the war there in July.

Western forces have employed contractors to assist the Afghan government in drug eradication programs, although the United Nations says that such programs have not been successful, eradicating only a small fraction of the crop.

(Additional reporting by Peter Graff in Kabul; Writing by Hamid Shalizi and Peter Graff; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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