FORWARD OPERATING BASE FRONTENAC, Afghanistan • It’s hard to overstate the importance Tundra Securities plays here.
The Toronto contractor runs base security, including an entry control point and the guard towers around the perimeter. As one U.S. soldier put it, Tundra is the bees, the U.S. military is the hive.
Tundra hires Afghan nationals to be security guards, after following a military protocol for screening and vetting employees.
“It’s been working here,” said Tundra’s field supervisor at Frontenac, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
But an attack by an Afghan security guard in 2011 that left two American soldiers dead and others injured suggested otherwise.
Shir Ahmed, an Afghan Tundra employee, fatally shot Spc. Rudy Acosta, 19, a medic from California, and Cpl. Donald Mickler, 29, of Ohio, shortly after 8 a.m. on March 19, 2011.
The soldiers’ weapons were disassembled at the time. Ahmed reportedly emptied a magazine and loaded another before being shot dead after an extended firefight. A search of his quarters found narcotics.
Ahmed had previously been fired and rehired by Tundra. Acosta’s family sued in federal court in July, saying the firm ignored warning signs.
The top Tundra employee on base declined to comment last week on the shooting and referred questions to its chief executive, Rob Macintyre, who did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The incident triggered an Army investigation, followed by a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee last year. Top military officials told the committee that the attack led to new employee screening protocols that Tundra has adopted.
According to the testimony, Tundra did not inform the military that Ahmed was fired in 2010 because he posed a threat, because allegations against him at the time were not substantiated.
Two months after the incident, the military announced it would conduct random checks of private security records to ensure employees were properly screened.
Though the incident is only two years old, several Missouri guardsmen at the Frontenac base weren’t familiar with the shooting.
But some of them said they generally don’t like the arrangement of Tundra’s use of Afghan security.
“There’s something wrong about it. Maybe because Americans value life more than these people,” said Staff Sgt. Gary Lewis, of the southeast Missouri town of Chaffee. “I’d feel better if it was Americans watching Americans.”
Peter Sunder, a private contractor on base from Kirkwood, said he was fine with having Afghan security guards.
“There is a greater risk because they could be Afghan turncoats, but they could potentially take their job more seriously,” he said. “They are contracted. They could be fired.”
Sgt. 1st Class James McClarney, 44, of St. Louis, said each time he drives by the guard towers, he waves at the men inside. They usually wave back.
He said it can be a lonely job pulling guard shifts and that the men doing it need to be reassured that somebody is thinking about them.
“I don’t care who is in the tower, you have to be prepared for the unexpected,” he said.