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Company formerly known as Blackwater gets Afghan contract

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Part of the company once known as Blackwater Worldwide has been awarded a more than $120 million contract to protect new U.S. consulates in the Afghan cities of Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, the U.S. Embassy said Saturday.

The United States Training Center, a business unit of the former Blackwater, now called Xe Services, was awarded the contract Friday, embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The company won the contract over two other American firms — Triple Canopy and DynCorps International, she said. The one-year contract can be extended twice for three months each for a maximum of 18 months.

Under the name Blackwater, the Moyock, North Carolina-based company provided guards and services to the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere but came under sharp criticism for its heavy-handed tactics in those missions.

It has been trying to rehabilitate its image since a 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square that killed 17 people, outraged the Iraqi government and led to federal charges against several Blackwater guards.

The accusations later were thrown out of court after a judge found prosecutors mishandled evidence. The Justice Department has appealed that ruling.

In the wake of the ruling, Iraq ordered hundreds of private security guards linked to Blackwater to leave the country. Iraqi officials said the order applied to security guards who were working for Blackwater at the time of the Nisoor Square shooting.

Xe eventually lost its license to operate as protector of U.S. diplomats in Iraq and the State Department when its contract expired last year. Nine months later, the State Department temporarily extended a contract with a Xe subsidiary known as Presidential Airways to provide air support for U.S. diplomats.