Private guards responsible for protecting what may be the most at-risk U.S. diplomatic mission in the world -- the embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan -- say security weaknesses have left it dangerously vulnerable to attack.
In interviews and written communications with the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), current and former guards said a variety of shortcomings, from inadequate weapons training to an overextended guard force, have compromised security there -- security provided under a half-a-billion-dollar contract with Aegis Defense Services LLC, the U.S. subsidiary of a British firm. "[I]f we ever got seriously hit [by terrorists], there is no doubt in my mind the guard force here would not be able to handle it, and mass casualties and mayhem would ensue," a guard serving at the embassy wrote in a late November message to POGO.
In July, dissatisfaction boiled over when more than 40 members of the embassy's Emergency Response Team signed a petition sounding an alarm about embassy security, people familiar with the document said. The petition, submitted to the U.S. State Department and Aegis, expressed a "vote of no confidence" in three of the guard force leaders, accusing them of "tactical incompetence" and "a dangerous lack of understanding of the operational environment." Two guards say they were quickly fired after organizing the petition, in what they called "retaliation."
A State Department document obtained by POGO describes a "mutiny" among guards who defend the Kabul embassy -- an apparent reference to the petition, though the document does not explicitly mention it. Dated July 18, 2012, and labeled "SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED," the document says that the mutiny was "baseless" and that it "undermined the chain of command" and "put the security of the Embassy at risk."
The allegations that the Kabul guards made in their interviews with POGO are all the more disturbing in the wake of congressional and public outcry over the lax security that may have contributed to the deadly attack on Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi, Libya, last September. The official postmortem released by the State Department's independent commission in December painted the Benghazi facility as a casualty of bureaucratic neglect, and the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security resigned. But the situation described by guards in Kabul suggests that diplomatic security problems go far beyond a makeshift, overlooked outpost in eastern Libya.
Following the Benghazi attack, the State Department dispatched teams to assess security at a number of diplomatic posts -- but not to the Kabul embassy because, according to the department, security was already heightened there.
The guards' charges are simply the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the Kabul embassy.