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McKeon introduces legislation to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan

Posted: March 1, 2012 5:15 p.m.
Updated: March 1, 2012 5:15 p.m.

A bill aimed at protecting U.S. troops in Afghanistan from private security contractors hired to guard them was introduced into the House on Thursday.

Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, introduced H.R. 4117 as promised in response to attacks on U.S. troops by the contracted guards hired to protect them inside military bases.

McKeon told The Signal last month he would introduce legislation to protect U.S. troops after a hearing on the issue before the House Armed Services Committee.

Nearly a year ago, Santa Clarita Valley resident and Army Spc. Rudy Acosta was killed when a rogue security-firm recruit opened fire on troops as they were cleaning their guns.

McKeon has said there have been 42 "insider attacks" on coalition forces since 2007 by the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, or Afghan nationals hired by private security contractors to guard United States bases in Afghanistan.

The move could complicate President Barack Obama's timetable for withdrawing American forces after more than a decade of war.

In a recent spate of anti-American violence touched off by the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base last week, two U.S. troops were gunned down by two Afghan soldiers and an accomplice on Thursday. Six Americans have been killed by their Afghan partners in recent days.

"The loss of any soldier is tragic, but in the instances where American soldiers are killed by those employed to protect them, the tragedy is compounded by the senseless manner in which these heroes lost their lives," McKeon said in a statement Thursday.

"We owe our soldiers and their families the promise that we are doing all that we can to ensure their safety while bravely serving our country."

The legislation would require the president to ensure that there are enough trained members of the military to fight the war in Afghanistan as well as provide security for American troops.

If the president refuses, he must certify to Congress that private security contractors or the Afghan Public Protection Force can provide protection that is at least equal to the U.S. military.

The bill would prohibit the president from shifting troops from current operations in Afghanistan to protect bases. Such a step would force the president to increase the number of troops in the country - a move certain to face strong opposition in a war-weary Congress.

The United States and its NATO partners agreed in late 2010 to end the combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The mission would transition to an operation focused on training and advising Afghan forces.

Obama plans to reduce the total U.S. military presence to 68,000 by the end of September from the current level of about 90,000 U.S. troops.

Frustration with the decade-plus war has increased in Congress, reflected in votes last year in both the House and Senate, and more recently in congressional hearings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week.
Several lawmakers questioned the continued U.S. presence as anti-American protests claimed U.S. lives.

Military officials said last month that most of the attackers acted out of personal motivation and were not controlled or directed by insurgent groups. The second most common circumstances involved insurgents impersonating or infiltrating Afghan security forces.

Defense officials have spelled out a screening process for Afghan nationals who are used to provide security for U.S. forces. That program incorporates some improvements made after the March 2011 attack at Forward Operating Base Frontenac that killed Acosta and Cpl. Donald Mickler of Ohio and wounded four others.




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