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Army investigation not handed over to Armed Services Committee chair for 8 months

Gunman had been fired a year earlier for threatening to kill American soldiers

Posted: December 19, 2011 6:52 p.m.
Updated: December 19, 2011 6:52 p.m.

An investigation into the death of Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta of Santa Clarita and the rogue private security firm recruit who killed him was completed by the United States military eight months ago but never sent to Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon, the man who demanded the probe.

On April 14, just 26 days after it was ordered, the shooting probe done by an appointed U.S. Army investigator - detailing interviews, identifying problems and listing recommendations about the recruiting done by private contractors was complete.

However, the first McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, heard about the report findings was Friday.

McKeon wasted no time expressing his anger.

In letters provided to The Signal with the report Monday, he demanded that the Committee of Armed Services, of which he is chairman, be given all classified and unclassified investigations into the attack, including criminal investigations department and counterintelligence documents.

He also ordered a complete list of "corrective actions" taken by various levels of command with regard to the investigator's recommendations.

Dante Acosta, father of the fallen local soldier, who went to Washington at McKeon's invitation in September looking for answers, was shocked to hear Monday of the report.

"Although I haven't seen it, I'm surprised it's taken so long to get into my hands," Danta Acosta said after receiving the report. He said he would withhold additional comment until he read it.

In a stinging letter of rebuke sent to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, McKeon says: "I was disappointed that despite being forewarned of my interest in the attack at FOB Frontenac, the response to my question on this matter (enclosed) provided no additional information on the incident."

In a copy of the letter printed on Committee on Armed Services letterhead and obtained by The Signal, McKeon said: "I am distressed to now learn that the investigating officer made several recommendations to address the findings of failed policies and procedures that he discovered."

Most "significant" of the report's findings, according to its investigator, was that Afghan national Shia Ahmed - recruited by private military contractor Tundra just 10 days before the killings - had been fired from the very same firm a year earlier for threatening to kill American soldiers.

His report states: "I identified several areas and procedures that could be improved to prevent future insurgent attacks of this nature."

Shia Ahmed had expressed intentions to target U.S. soldiers in July 2010 at FOB Blackhawk (Spin Boldak) and was subsequently fired by his first line supervisor.

"However, Tundra failed to ensure his files were updated to reflect that he should not be hired again," the investigator wrote.

McKeon dated his letter to Panetta Dec. 16, the day after The Signal published a story on how the military failed to deliver on its promise to formally respond to McKeon and the Acosta family.

McKeon closes his letter to Panetta saying: "I have great difficulty understanding why the flaws in this critical program that put so many of our troops at risk should have been consistently withheld from the Congress and therefore denied the appropriate level of attention."

The congressman also sent a letter to Acosta saying he's ordered "an independent investigation of the attack."

He told The Signal: "It is unacceptable that findings and recommendations have been available to (Department of Defense) officials and yet there was no effort to keep me, my office, or the Acosta family apprised despite frequent inquires.

"Since my first letter, nine days after the attack resulting in the death of Pfc Acosta, I have been actively engaged in an effort to understand the circumstances leading to the tragic event and to determine and promote necessary remedies to prevent any similar events in the future.

"I reached out to our commanding officers, asking for personal assurances that their commands spare no effort to determine the root causes of the attack, to undertake a review of security guard procedures employed by security contractors and to keep me apprised of the investigation.

"As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, there is no matter I take more seriously than the safety of our service men and women. I will pursue an independent investigation into the attack and its aftermath and why information was withheld or delayed to myself and the committee."

In responding to McKeon's call for an investigation into the March 19 shooting and into the hiring practices of private military contractors, General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, sent McKeon a letter dated April 17 from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Headquarters.

It reads: "We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine how and why this attack occurred. We will also assess the contractor's responsibility in this attack and will take appropriate measures to hold the contractor accountable."

Other military documents show that Acting Commander, 10th Mountain Division, Brigadier General Kenneth R. Dahl appointed an Army investigator March 26, seven days after the shooting.

His orders were clear: "conduct an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the hostile fire death of Corporal Donald Mickler (and) Private First Class Rudy Acosta."

His order also stipulates: "This investigation is your primary mission until you tender your completed findings and recommendations to me, no later than 15 days from your legal briefing."

The appointed Army investigator completed his report on April 14, 2011.

The first McKeon heard about the report was Dec. 16.

On March 19, an Afghan national named Shia Ahmed - recruited by Tundra 10 days earlier - opened fire on American troops as they began cleaning their weapons inside the Forward Operating Base Frontenac in Afghanistan.

Two Americans were killed and four others wounded by the time the gunman was shot. One of those two killed was Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta, born and raised in the Santa Clarita Valley.

On Sept. 22, Dante Acosta attended a congressional hearing of the House Armed Services Committee that was called to provide politicians with an update on security forces in Afghanistan.

He went at the invitation of McKeon, who chairs the committee, looking for answers to questions posed by the death of his son, principally questions about the hiring practices of privately contracted security firms.




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