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| Thursday, Jan 26, 2012

Dec. 6, 2011: Dante Acosta discusses his son's death on SCVTV's "Newsmaker of the Week" program.

Dante Acosta will get his day in court – or more correctly, his day in Congress. But only as a spectator. He’s upset that he isn’t scheduled to testify.

After all, he started the whole thing.

“It” is a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the use of Afghan nationals to guard U.S. troops.

Acosta’s son, Army Spc. Rudy Acosta, and fellow soldier Donald Mickler of Ohio were shot dead on an Army base in Afghanistan by an enemy infiltrator who’d been hired by a private security firm to protect them.

Ever since the Canyon Country dad learned how his 19-year-old son died on the morning of March 19, 2011, at Forward Operating Base Frontenac, he’s been on a quest for details and for some assurance that the military won’t allow the same sort of thing to happen again.

“You don’t have Afghan nationals guarding American soldiers. It’s that simple,” Acosta says.

It has become his mantra.

Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta

But the Army’s 15-6 investigation into Rudy’s death showed that private security firms do hire Afghan nationals to guard American soldiers, and that solving the problem is anything but simple – especially in light of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to kick all foreign contractors out of the country by March.

Even cutting through the Pentagon’s red tape to get hold of the AR 15-6 report on Rudy Acosta was more difficult than it probably should have been, both for Dante Acosta and for his congressman, Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita – who happens to chair the House Armed Services Committee.

A HASC hearing in September on the broader issue of Afghan national security forces yielded few answers to Acosta and McKeon’s direct questions about the Army specialist’s death. To both men’s consternation, they later discovered that defense officials failed to disclose that the Army had  completed the 15-6 investigation five months earlier and already knew most of the answers.

Turn up the clock and McKeon has called another hearing, this time to address the senior Acosta’s specific issue of hiring Afghans to protect U.S. troops.

“This is a case where constituent services and congressional oversight come together,” HASC spokesman Claude Chafin said. “The investigation into Spc. Acosta’s death revealed a situation that has wider policy implications.”

The formal subject of the Feb. 1 hearing is “the use of Afghan nationals to provide security to U.S. forces in light of attack on U.S. personnel at FOB Frontenac, Afghanistan, in March 2011.”

U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, HASC Chairman

Scheduled to testify are David S. Sedney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia; Gary J. Motsek, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Program Support Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; Brigadier Gen. Stephen Townsend, Director, Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell, Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Brigadier Gen. Kenneth Dahl, Deputy Commanding General for Support, 10th Mountain Division.

The participants were chosen to provide expert testimony on three related topics: the circumstances of Rudy Acosta’s death, any policy changes that resulted from the Army’s investigation into his death, and recommendations for the future.

Acosta wanted to address the panel because he’s in a unique position to provide “context and color” to the conversation.

“These aren’t just statistics and numbers,” he said. “They are individuals, and (their loss) has a lasting impact on their families and their communities.”

But Chafin said Acosta “isn’t positioned to testify on the changes the military will undertake to prevent future deaths,” when asked why the soldier’s father won’t be allowed to testify.

“Next week (Feb. 1) we will be taking testimony on the Acosta death investigation and from those responsible for the policies and procedures that could prevent future tragedies,” Chafin said. “Buck McKeon will press the Department of Defense for facts and solutions only they can provide.”

“Rudy Acosta served his country bravely, and his father has carried on his service well,” Chafin said. “Mr. Acosta’s desire to testify is understandable. His son’s death, along with his fellow soldiers who were killed or wounded that day, could well have been prevented, and he is right to work diligently to keep the same thing from happening again. Chairman McKeon joins him in that fight, which is why he is calling this hearing, and why we took the unprecedented step of placing Mr. Acosta’s views into the record.”

Adding a layer of complexity to next week’s hearing is the ordered withdrawal of all U.S. and other foreign contractors. Karzai has said as of March, the Afghan government will relieve NATO of the duties previously performed by private security firms – and that’s something the Pentagon officials will have to address at the Feb. 1 hearing, Chafin said.

2004: Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses Congress.

He said the committee needs to know “the degree to which the Afghan army and police are willing to protect the Afghan government” and their ability to do so.

“How do we know our forces – as they interact more closely with the Afghan army and police – that they’re safe? That’s where there are lessons to be drawn from what happened with Rudy Acosta,” Chafin said.

Dante Acosta admits he doesn’t have all of the answers, but to him, the overarching lesson is clear.

“Should we be pulling (the troops) back? Do we need more soldiers (to provide force protection)? What does that look like? I’m not military, but the public demands that you don’t have Afghans guarding American soldiers.”

“Let our soldiers guard themselves,” Acosta says. “Whatever that takes.”

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