U.S. embassy in Kabul bans alcohol from guard camp

KABUL (Reuters) - The United States embassy in Kabul said on Thursday it has banned all alcohol from a camp where its guards live following allegations they had engaged in drunken brawls and lewd behaviour that put U.S. diplomats at risk.

The U.S. ambassador and other senior embassy officials met on Thursday to discuss the issue, an embassy statement said, and was interviewing guards as part of an investigation. They are also assessing whether any staff should be suspended or fired.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the non-partisan 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 Afghans.

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

Last month, insurgents fired rockets that landed near the embassy and a suicide car bomber struck close to its gates, killing at least seven people and wounding almost 100. The Taliban said the embassy had been the bomber’s target.

“Since learning of the allegations ... the U.S. embassy has taken a number of immediate steps to ensure our security is sound and that our embassy community is well informed,” the embassy statement said.

“Alcohol is now prohibited at Camp Sullivan. Embassy officials continue to interview guard force personnel ... to assess the need for possible suspensions and terminations.”

ArmorGroup employs 450 guards to provide security at the embassy under a 5-year, $189 million contract that was extended in June.

The company is a subsidiary of Florida-based Wackenhut Services Inc. It has not commented 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 the letter sent to Clinton on Tuesday, the Project on Government Oversight said the contractors fostered a “Lord of the Flies environment” built on abuse and humiliating rituals.

It quoted witnesses as saying they had seen guards urinating 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.