KABUL - The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has banned alcohol and assigned American personnel to watch the embassy's security guards following allegations of lewd behaviour and sexual misconduct at their living quarters.

The announcement of the crackdown on embassy guards came as NATO reported the deaths of two U. S. service members in southern Afghanistan. A British soldier was also killed, according to the U.K. military.

The two U.S. personnel were killed by a bomb while on patrol in the region, which has seen some of the most intense fighting of the war. No other details have been released.

The British soldier from 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment was shot dead while on patrol in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province.

The U.S. Embassy announced its new security measures Thursday after an independent watchdog group charged that guards hired by a private contractor were threatened and intimidated by supervisors.

The alleged mistreatment occurred at their offsite living quarters.

Meanwhile, 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 his 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," a 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 behaviour 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 of 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 non-profit 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.


On the 'Net:

Project on Government Oversight: http://www.pogo.org

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