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U.S. says contractors violated gun policy

Associated Press

Four U.S. contractors for the company formerly known as Blackwater were not authorized to carry weapons when they were involved in a deadly shooting in Afghanistan this month, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

The men -- accused of opening fire May 5 on a vehicle in the capital -- have charged that their employer, now called Xe, issued them guns in breach of the company’s contract with the military.

One Afghan was killed in the shooting, and two others were wounded.

Xe declined to comment on the weapons or the contract.

The contractors were all back in the United States or en route by Tuesday, an attorney for the men said. Daniel J. Callahan said two of them “escaped” from the company in Kabul and took a flight out of the country late Saturday.

“Two of them snuck out under the cover of darkness,” said Callahan, a lawyer based in Santa Ana. “The other two, according to plans, should also be out of Blackwater’s grasp.”

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Callahan said military officials told him there was an investigation into the shooting but no order that the men stay in Afghanistan, so they decided to leave on their own.

Though he previously accused Xe of holding the contractors captive, Callahan said Tuesday that the company had simply told them to stay put.

Xe has said the men were not detained but were told not to leave the country without the approval and direction of the Defense Department.

The military said the men were operating under a contract that did not allow them to carry guns.

“By the terms of the contract, they were not authorized to carry weapons,” said Lt. Col. Chris Kubik, a U.S. military spokesman.

Kubik said the military had not given guns to the men and that he did not know if the weapons were issued by Xe or privately owned.

Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for the Moyock, N.C.-based company, declined to comment Tuesday on the terms of the contract or to say if the company had issued guns to the men. She had said previously that all Xe contractors were not banned from carrying guns in the country but that permission depended on the job description.

In Afghanistan, contract employees -- often former military personnel or police -- train troops and provide technical expertise, logistical support and security for diplomats and other international workers. As in Iraq, security companies have been dogged by allegations of corruption and heavy-handedness.

The men in question were contracted to provide military training and as such “were authorized to handle weapons in the course of their duties,” but were not allowed to have weapons with them at other times, Kubik said.


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