Families of Killed, Injured Troops Sue Contractor over Bagram ‘Fun Run’ Bombing

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The family of Pfc. Tyler Iubelt react to seeing his coffin during a dignified transfer ceremony Nov. 21, 2016, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. (U.S. Air Force photo/Clayton Lenhardt)
The family of Pfc. Tyler Iubelt react to seeing his coffin during a dignified transfer ceremony Nov. 21, 2016, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. (U.S. Air Force photo/Clayton Lenhardt)

A lawsuit has been filed over a suicide bomb attack that killed five and injured 17 before a Veterans Day fun run at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2016.

The families of those killed -- Army soldiers Pfc. Tyler Iubelt, 20; Staff Sgt. John Perry, 30; and Sgt. 1st Class Allan Brown, 46; along with Fluor contractors Peter Provost, 62, and retired Army Col. Jarrold Reeves, 57 -- as well as eight troops injured in the attack are suing U.S. security contractor Fluor Corp. and a subsidiary for employing Afghan national Ahmad Nayeb, the bomber who carried out the attack.

The suit alleges that Fluor and defendant Alliance Project Services were negligent in managing Nayeb, allowing him access to bomb-making tools and materials and failing to remove him from base when suspicions arose regarding his activities.

The action, filed in District Court in Dallas on Tuesday, is the second suit against Fluor in three months. Former Army Spc. Winston Hencely sued Fluor in February, alleging that the company's complacency allowed Nayeb, who worked in security at the base, to plan and execute the attack.

According to a U.S. Forces-Afghanistan investigation, Nayeb spent four months building his suicide vest in his on-base workspace. He then failed to board an escort bus for Afghan nationals to leave the base the morning of Nov. 12, 2016, but no one reported him missing.

Instead, he detonated his bomb at 6 a.m. as service members and contractors gathered for morning physical training and a Veterans Day 5K run. The explosion killed five, in addition to Nayeb, and injured 16 U.S. soldiers and a member of the Polish armed forces.

During a press conference Tuesday, Houston-based attorney Anthony Buzbee, a former Marine officer representing the plaintiffs, said his clients deserve their day in court against a contractor that failed to notice that its employee checked out tools not required as part of his job, and who slept during the work day, read the Quran or often just disappeared.

"Fluor never asked him why the devil he was checking out these tools, never asked him what he was up to for hours at a time," Buzbee said.

The lawsuit draws extensively from the military investigation, which determined that the "primary contributing factor in the attack" was "Fluor's complacency and its lack of reasonable supervision of its personnel."

The Taliban took responsibility for the bombing, which the group said took four months to plan and carry out.

"The [assailant] had entered the base very cleverly and performed a successful attack that left dozens of invaders killed while they were busy in taking exercise," Taliban leadership wrote in a press release following the attack.

During the incident, Perry was killed nearly instantly. Rescue workers attempted to resuscitate Iubelt, while Brown initially survived, directing emergency personnel to care for the others and encouraging soldiers even as he was gravely wounded. He died less than a month later at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

They left behind grieving parents, wives and children.

Those injured include Army Col. Chris Colavita, who is currently undergoing medical retirement for injuries sustained in the blast; Sgt. Lakeia Stokes, a former WNBA prospect from Clemson University who nearly lost her left arm; and Pfc. Maggie Bilyeu, who required leg amputation surgery earlier this year for injuries related to the attack.

Buzbee said he and his clients began talks with Fluor, which approached them to settle out of court, before filing the suit. Abruptly, however, the company canceled discussions "three weeks ago," leaving family members who had traveled to a planned meeting stranded.

"Fluor is well aware [of the suit]. We've been talking to them for months now, trying to resolve this issue. None of the folks behind me," he said, pointing to several plaintiffs, "want to relive this."

A spokesman from Fluor said Thursday that the company "remains deeply saddened by the tragic events at Bagram Air Force Base ... It was a horrific incident and we have profound sympathy for the families of the deceased and those who were injured in the attack."

However, spokesman Brian Mershon said, the complaint "misrepresents the facts surrounding the attack and does not correctly represent [Fluor's] responsibilities under our contract with the U.S. Army."

"Specifically, we provide base life support services to U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) IV contract. This is not a security contract. We do not have responsibility for base security, including the vetting of employees and their base access," Mershon said. "Due to the pending litigation, we will reserve further comment for the actual legal proceedings."

The company just concluded a $12 billion security contract for the Defense Department.

Buzbee declined to say how much the plaintiffs will seek in the suit, adding that it will be up to "a jury to decide."

However, they face an uphill battle in trying to hold a contractor accountable for misdeeds performed while under contract with the U.S. government in wartime. Military service members and their families previously have filed suits against government contractors, including KBR, for negligence that included faulty construction, management of burn pits and chemical exposure during cleanup.

They have lost or been awarded large compensatory sums, only to see cases overturned by higher courts, which have ruled that they don't have jurisdiction in the cases or that contractors are afforded the same sovereign immunity from lawsuits as the federal government, since they are supporting combat operations.

Buzbee and fellow attorneys Peter Taaffe and David George said they believe their clients' case is clear-cut.

"There are so many private companies that benefit from war. They make billions and billions of dollars and then, when they screw up, they leave these families holding the bag," Buzbee said.

Editor's note: This story was updated May 16 with a response from Fluor Corp.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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