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Father questions soldier security

his son was killed in Afghanistan in March, Dante Acosta began mission to help troops overseas

Posted: November 6, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: November 6, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Dante Acosta speaks at an interview Monday in Valencia.

 



The sun had risen just a few hours earlier over Forward Operating Base Frontenac in Afghanistan on March 19 when the American troops began cleaning their weapons.


That’s when a man from the area hired to guard the troops opened fire.

The gunman, Shir Ahmad, was shot dead, but not before he had killed two American servicemen and wounded four others.

One of the two killed was Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta, a Canyon Country resident and graduate of Santa Clarita Christian School.

News of the young man’s death moved Santa Clarita Valley residents to action, and thousands turned out to line the streets with American flags March 31 as an honor guard escorted the body for burial.

And it galvanized his father, Dante Acosta, into a quest to find out why the federal government hires residents of hostile countries to guard its own military personnel.

Ahmad had been hired March 9 in Shah Wali Kot District, where Forward Operating Base Frontenac is located, in a district of Afghanistan that’s historically been a stronghold of Taliban forces.

“We have no business hiring guys who have a dog in that fight,” Dante Acosta said about foreign nationals hired to protect U.S. troops.


In the two months leading up to the March 19 shooting, nine U.S. soldiers were killed by rogue Afghan security force members, whether uniformed or private security contractors, according the U.S. Department of Defense.

“My goal is to fix this and to shed light on a situation that is getting our young people killed,” Acosta said.

Over the past two decades, the practice of private military contractors being hired to assist U.S. forces has increased.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in 2005, said the number of contractors was on the increase.

In September, Dante Acosta took his cause to Washington, D.C., hoping to shed light on the screening practices of private security firms contracted by the U.S. military.

He went there with a list of questions at the invitation of Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

Acosta walked into the congressional hearing room shoulder to shoulder with high-ranking military officials who were expected to present an update on the security forces in Afghanistan to the House Armed Services Committee.

He had hoped the issue of security provided by privately contracted firms would be addressed.
It wasn’t.

The issue of recruitment screening was discussed as it pertained to the Afghan National Security Forces, but not the screening carried out by firms contracted by the U.S. military.

McKeon read a statement from Dante Acosta into the record and recognized Rudy Acosta’s sacrifice. He paraphrased one of Dante Acosta’s questions to Gen. Robert B. Neller, asking him how contractors and their personnel are monitored.

“It is a problem, and it has got everyone’s attention, and the idea of an inside threat, as it is called, is something that we have to deal with,” Neller said. “It is a reality.”

McKeon spokeswoman Alissa McCurley said Dante Acosta’s list of questions was submitted to a military review body that is expected to formally respond within two months.


The congressman has urged military officials to deliver their response as soon as possible, she said.
While grateful for having been invited to the hearing and thankful that his congressman read his statement into the record, Acosta still wants answers.

 Private security
Ahmad, the gunman who shot and killed Acosta’s son, was hired by Tundra Security, a private security company based in Canada that, according to its website, provides physical security services to local and foreign government organizations throughout Afghanistan.

Tundra officials were asked about the shooting and their recruitment.

“There were multiple investigations that were performed by a number of departments within the United States government in reference to the recruiting processes of private security companies, and also the U.S.-imposed and -run screening and vetting processes for all local nationals used to protect U.S facilities,” Tundra spokesman Rob MacIntyre said in an email.

“The investigations were led by the U.S. government and some are still ongoing, so we are not able to release any information until they are officially complete.”

Meanwhile, Acosta wants officials in Washington to hold a hearing to address the issue of foreign nationals recruited to watch over U.S. troops.

“I’d like to have a hearing held in Congress, specifically about — if not this incident — then the broader question about contractors providing security for our forces,” Acosta said.

His trip to Washington, he added, wasn’t entirely futile.

He learned a few things about recruitment and hiring foreign nationals from Neller. “There are some impersonators,”

Neller acknowledged for the House Armed Services Committee.

Screening procedure
What Acosta brought back from Washington was the understanding that foreign nationals recruited by security firms are subjected to “biometric” screening — meaning fingerprints, retinal scans and, occasionally, DNA testing.


“But only 12 percent of the population has biometrics on them. So what good does it do?” Acosta said.

“It’s like going into a junior high school class in Santa Clarita and doing biometrics on them,” he said during an interview. “They’re all going to come up clean except for that one kid with a juvie record.”


U.S. troops should worry about battling the enemy, not “who’s got their back,” he said.

“Can they sit down, kick up their feet and read a comic book or watch a DVD on their laptop? They can’t do that. They tell me first-hand that they don’t trust any of the people over there guarding them.

“In addition to being loved and respected back home, we have to be showing them that love and respect and support by making sure we don’t have a local villager who has a grudge and is going to shoot them while they sleep or while they eat.”

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