Asia Crisis

U.S. embassy in Kabul fires guards for lewd acts

(For more on Afghanistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK])

KABUL, Sept 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan said on Friday it had fired security guards who were photographed engaging in lewd acts at alcohol-fuelled parties.

In a letter this week to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a group called the Project on Government Oversight said private guards from security firm ArmorGroup North America were staging abusive hazing rituals, jeopardising diplomats' safety.

Photos have since circulated on the internet showing guards in various states of undress, including some in which they grope each other naked and others in which they appear to drink vodka poured between each other's buttocks.

"Ten guards seen in the offensive photos are leaving the country today; eight were terminated and two resigned," the embassy said in a statement.

"The entire senior management team of ArmorGroup North America in Kabul is being replaced immediately. The embassy security office continues its interviews of every one of the ArmorGroup guards."

An embassy spokeswoman also said the guards had been banned from drinking alcohol at any time while in Afghanistan.

The letter to Clinton said that along with serious understaffing and other shortcomings, the guards' bahaviour 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 killed at least seven people and wounded almost 100 close to its gates. The Taliban said the embassy had been the bomber's target.

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. A spokesman for the firm did not immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment.

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. (Reporting by Peter Graff; editing by Tim Pearce) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: