Current and former guards assigned to protect the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, say security weaknesses have left the embassy vulnerable to attack—raising fresh questions about the State Department’s ability to protect its diplomats, according to a Project On Government Oversight (POGO) investigation published Thursday evening.
The POGO report, which also appears in Foreign Policy, includes interviews with several guards who said the guard force has been stretched dangerously thin by long hours for days on end. That, in turn, has led to high job turnover, low morale, and other problems, they said. Although the State Department has set a standard 72-hour work week for members of the guard force, guards told POGO that they have routinely been called upon to work even longer.
Months ago, dozens of guards signed a petition sounding an alarm about embassy security. The petition accused leaders of the private contractor guard force of “tactical incompetence” and “a dangerous lack of understanding of the operational environment.”
A State Department document obtained by POGO describes a “mutiny” among guards that “undermined the chain of command” and “put the security of the Embassy at risk.”
With State Department officials facing questions about whether they did enough to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the Kabul allegations suggest that diplomatic security problems go far beyond a makeshift, overlooked outpost in eastern Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her designated successor Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) are expected to testify before Congress next week and are likely to face questions about the Benghazi fiasco.
For years, POGO has warned about the dangers of the U.S. government’s over-reliance on security contractors and its inability to manage them, especially in war zones.
And in particular, this is not the first time POGO has highlighted security concerns about the embassy in Kabul. In 2009, POGO reported on security failings that included overworked guards, language barriers among members of the guard force and wild, drunken behavior. The contractor, Armor Group North America, was told it could not rebid on its contract when it expired. Instead, the State Department awarded the current contract to Aegis Defense Services Ltd.
“This has to be the last straw. How many times do we need to witness the State Department's abominable oversight of its private security contractors before meaningful changes are made?" asked Danielle Brian, POGO executive director. “When it comes to war zones, or volatile areas with heightened security risks, the job of securing our diplomats and supporting their mission needs to be handled by a federalized security force or the military.”