By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
KABUL - The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has banned alcohol and assigned American personnel to watch over the embassy's security guards following allegations of lewd behavior and sexual misconduct at their living quarters.
An independent watchdog group alleged this week guards hired by a private contractor were threatened and intimidated at their offsite living quarters, and photos were released of guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties flowing with booze.
The State Department inspector general is leading an investigation of the contractor, ArmorGroup North America.
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry held a meeting with embassy staff on Thursday to discuss the situation, said embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
"We've already started to make changes to remedy some of the problems," Hayden said.
Alcohol has been prohibited at Camp Sullivan -- the offsite location where ArmorGroup guards live -- and diplomatic security staff have been assigned to the camp, the embassy said.
The embassy "will continue to take every possible step to ensure the safety and security of American Embassy personnel, while respecting the values of all Afghans, Americans and contract employees and visitors from other countries," an embassy statement said.
The ArmorGroup security personnel guard the gates to the embassy road and perimeter and screen visitors. The Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group, said the nearly 450 ArmorGroup guards live and work in an oppressive environment in which they are subjected to hazing and other inappropriate behavior by supervisors.
In at least one case, supervisors brought prostitutes into the quarters where the guards live, a serious breach of security and discipline, the group said this week. In other instances, members of the guard force drew Afghans into activities forbidden by Muslims, such as drinking alcoholic beverages, it said.
The situation led to a breakdown in morale and leadership that has compromised security at the embassy, where nearly 1,000 U.S. diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals work, according to the nonprofit group.
The embassy has been targeted in insurgent rocket attacks, and suicide bombs have exploded at or near its gates. Militant attacks have risen across Afghanistan the last three years.
In the latest violence, Britain's defense ministry said a soldier was killed Wednesday in a bomb attack in Helmand province. The death raised the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 211.