U.S. military probes Blackwater Kabul killing

KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military is investigating a shooting incident in which four contractors from the re-named firm formerly called Blackwater are accused of killing an Afghan man after a traffic accident, a spokesman said on Sunday.

The military said it had asked the firm to keep the four men in Afghanistan until its investigation was complete. The firm said it was cooperating with the investigation and had fired the four men for failing to follow regulations.

A lawyer for the four men said they were being held against their will by the firm in Kabul.

The North Carolina firm, which once had a lucrative contract to defend U.S. diplomats in Iraq, has changed its name to Xe Services and lost its Iraq contract this year.

It gained notoriety in Iraq after its staff killed 17 civilians in Baghdad during a traffic incident in 2007. One Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges over that incident and five others are awaiting trial.

“At this time, we can confirm an incident involving some of our off-duty contractors for Paravant in Afghanistan,” Anne Tyrell, spokeswoman for the firm, said in an e-mail to Reuters. She identified Paravant as a subsidiary of Xe, the renamed firm.

“Paravant terminated the contracts with the four individuals involved in the incident for failure to comply with the terms of their contract, which require, among other things, compliance with all laws, regulations, and company policies,” she said.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christian Kubik said the four men were employed to train Afghan troops.

After being involved in a car crash in Kabul on May 5, they fired on an oncoming car that they saw as a threat, wounding three Afghans, one of whom died two days later, Kubik said.

“The contracting company is cooperating with us. We have asked them to keep the individuals in-country until the investigation is complete,” Kubik said.

“When you’re talking about the death of an Afghan, that’s very important to us. We want to get it right.”

A U.S. lawyer, Daniel Callahan, who said he was representing the four men -- Chris Drotleff, Steve McClain, Justic Cannon and Armando Hamid -- said they were being held “captive” by the company at a “safe house” in a mosque in Kabul.

Xe spokeswoman Tyrell denied the men were being held, but said the company had told them they could not leave the country without the approval of the U.S. Defense Department, and the firm was trying to clarify whether they had permission to leave.

An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman said he was looking into reports of the incident.

Editing by Alex Richardson