Contractors in Kabul accused of 'lewd and deviant behavior'

Security guards at the US Embassy in Afghanistan indulged in hazing and nudity, the Project on Government Oversight says. It calls for Pentagon oversight.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A national watchdog group is asking the Pentagon to deploy military minders to oversee a group of contractors hired to guard the US Embassy in Kabul. The group reports that guards there created a "Lord of the Flies"-like environment that threatened embassy security.

The Project on Government Oversight investigated reports from employees of a private security firm hired by the US State Department that guards had participated in inappropriate behavior at parties near the embassy and had put American security, if not the mission in Afghanistan, in jeopardy.

"Lewd and deviant behavior" of about 30 guards and supervisors included drinking at parties in which there was nudity, brawls between guards, and at least in one instance the presence of women, allegedly prostitutes, at a nearby camp that was used to house the guards, according to a letter sent by POGO to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday.

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There were other alleged incidents in which guards were shown in videos and pictures in a drunken and semi-nude state alongside Afghan nationals, who would presumably consider such behavior in a Muslim country offensive.

"POGO believes that the management of the contract to protect the US embassy Kabul is grossly deficient, posing a significant threat to the security of the embassy and its personnel – and thereby to the diplomatic mission of Afghanistan," Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO, wrote in the letter to Ms. Clinton.

The guards, many of whom do not speak English, are employees of AmorGroup, a British firm that is a subsidiary of Wackenhut Services, Inc. A spokesperson at Miami-based Wackenhut said the company was preparing a response to the allegations.

Noting that State Department officials either knew or should have known about the environment in which the contractors were allowed to operate, POGO called for Pentagon oversight of the contract.

According to news reports Wednesday, the State Department inspector general is sending a team to conduct a "full inspection" of operations at the US Embassy in Kabul.

The inspectors will "evaluate all aspects of the embassy and the mission," spokesman Tom Burgess told NBC News.

State has had difficulty with private security firms, most notably the former Blackwater USA, responsible for killing as many as 17 civilians during an escort of State Department employees through Nisour Square in Baghdad in September 2007. The company's license to operate in Iraq was immediately revoked, causing a major embarrassment for the Bush administration at the time.

"After two years of failed attempts by the Department of State to upgrade the performance of its private security contractors in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Department should enter into an arrangement with Defense Secretary Gates to provide immediate military supervision of the private security force at the US embassies in Kabul and Baghdad," according to the letter to Clinton.

The Pentagon did not have an immediate response to the group's request.

The charges come as the number of contractors in Afghanistan eclipses the number of American troops deployed there. The Congressional Research Service reported Tuesday that there are roughly 68,200 contractors in Afghanistan, representing 57 percent of all American personnel there.

"This apparently [represents] the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DoD in any conflict in the history of the United States," the CRS report said.

As of March, when CRS assessed the data, there were about 57,000 American troops in Afghanistan, but by fall there should be about 68,000.

President Obama will soon begin weighing whether he should send as many as 45,000 more troops to Afghanistan over the next year. That would likely require the US to increase the number of contractors to provide food, security, laundry and other support services for those combat forces.

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