Feb 01 2012

The Use of Afghan Nationals to Provide Security to U.S. Forces

Chairman Buck McKeon


“In September last year, this committee explored the issue of attacks by members of the Afghan National Security Forces on U.S. and coalition personnel.  The witnesses concluded that DOD had “mitigated the risk about to the degree we can,” in “these few occasions” when such attacks have occurred. 

Since then, the committee staff has continued to look into the factors behind attacks by Afghan nationals on coalition forces, including attacks conducted by Afghans hired by private security contractors to protect U.S. bases.  The staff has used the attack in March 2011 at Forward Operating Base Frontenac as a case study to better understand the range of issues.  In that attack, two soldiers died, including my constituent, Specialist Rudy Acosta, and four were wounded.  I would like to note that Specialist Acosta’s father and mother, Dante and Carolyn Acosta, are with us today.  

“Private security contractors are used in Afghanistan to provide personal protective services for Department of State personnel and dignitaries, to guard construction sites, to ensure safe movement for other private companies doing business in Afghanistan, for guarding supply convoys, and to augment coalition forces by providing base security.  In the case of base security, the Commander in Chief is responsible for determining the size of the U.S. force deployed to Afghanistan, the missions that force will undertake, and the necessary contractor support.  For different reasons, both President Bush and President Obama have chosen to limit the size of the U.S. force and to use private security contractors to enhance base security.  In contrast, it is Congress’ role, and the purpose of today’s hearing, to assess the advisability of these policies and whether the Administration needs to change its approach. 

“Complicating matters further, President Karzai has dictated that only Afghan nationals may be certified for employment as private security guards and has not permitted U.S. citizen contractors.  Karzai has also ordered the private security contractors to be disbanded. The Afghan Ministry of Interior will assume full responsibility for providing the Afghan Personal Protection Force (APPF), a new organization that from March 2012 onward, with a few exceptions, will replace private security contractors.  The APPF will be available on a fee-for-service basis to coalition forces to perform the services I just described.  

“According to DOD, the Afghan Ministry of Interior, in conjunction with U.S. and coalition forces, will use a vetting and screening process that will be the same for both the Afghan National Security Forces and the APPF. 

I recognize that it would be virtually impossible to establish a foolproof screening process.  Our own national security screening system is not foolproof.  Yet, we must recognize that the existing processes failed to identify 42 attackers in 2007 to 2011.  Thirty-nine of those attacks were by members of the Afghan National Security Force, and three by contractor employees.  Though less than one percent of Afghan forces and security guards have attacked coalition forces, this is 42 attacks too many and the new process must do better. 

“Another concern is that the screening and vetting has been tragically weak in picking up signs of threats after the Afghan joined either the Afghan National Security Force, or a private security contractor.  DOD data indicates that at least 60 percent of all the attacks appear to be motivated by personal matters, arising after hiring. 

“So it was with the attacker at FOB Frontenac.  In July 2010 at another forward operating base, his employer, Tundra Security, fired him for allegedly making statements about killing U.S. personnel and recommended that he not be rehired.  The contractor’s chain of command did not enter that recommendation into the attacker’s file, and the attacker was rehired by the same contractor in 2011, just before the attack at Frontenac. 

Moreover, because a parallel U.S. investigation of the 2010 allegations concluded that the statements could not be substantiated, the U.S. official at the base decided not to enter the allegations about the attacker in the U.S. watch list system.  

“Adding to my concern about the vetting system not being focused in the right place, a U.S. rescreening of all Afghan security guards at Frontenac immediately after the attack resulted in several being dismissed as “unworthy” of employment. 

“Finally, I am concerned about the Department’s September statement that its efforts have “mitigated the risk about to the degree we can.”  At the time, the Committee was not aware that the frequency of these attacks had dramatically increased in 2010 and 2011 – in fact, 75 percent of all attacks have occurred in the last two years.  The Department attributes the increase with the growth of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But, we need to understand the contributing factors better, so that more effective steps can be taken to further mitigate attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel. 

“Before introducing our witnesses, I ask unanimous consent that a statement and questions for the record from Mr. Acosta be included in the hearing record. 

“I would also inform Members that some of the material provided to the committee is classified.  Those classified items are noted in the hearing memo.  If any Member wishes to discuss classified matters after the hearing, our witnesses have agreed to make themselves available in 2337 immediately following this hearing.  If any Member wishes to go to 2337, please let committee staff know before our hearing today ends.