Afghanistan Begins Purge of Army While NATO Chief Promises “Cultural Awareness Training”

In a news conference this morning, Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi announced that “hundreds” of soldiers have been dismissed from the Army or detained in a probe that began six months ago and is aimed at removing soldiers with ties to insurgents and therefore pose a risk for green on blue attacks. Separately, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to urge further action by Afghanistan to stem green on blue killings. Remarkably, Rasmussen acknowledged that NATO training on “cultural awareness” is important to stopping the increasing rate of these attacks. After first attempting to retroactively classify the report “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” it appears that perhaps NATO is finally ready to take actions aimed at implementing its recommendations to raise the awareness of NATO troops regarding actions and attitudes that conflict with deeply-held beliefs of Afghan recruits.

Reuters describes Azimi’s press conference:

The Afghan army has detained or sacked hundreds of soldiers for having links to insurgents, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday, as it tries to stem an alarming number of so-called insider attacks eroding trust between Afghans and their allies.


“Hundreds were sacked or detained after showing links with insurgents. In some cases we had evidence against them, in others we were simply suspicious,” Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi told reporters in Kabul.

“Using an army uniform against foreign forces is a serious point of concern not only for the Defence Ministry but for the whole Afghan government,” Azimi said, adding that President Hamid Karzai had ordered Afghan forces to devise ways to stop insider attacks.

It is very interesting that Azimi claims this probe of the Army began six months ago:

He said his Ministry started an investigation into the attacks, which are also called green-on-blue attacks, within the 195,000-strong Afghan army six months ago.

Khaama adds a bit of detail on the basis for expelling or detaining soldiers:

Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi did not provide any other details or specific numbers on Wednesday. He said many of the troops had been discharged from the military because they had suspect documents, either incomplete or forged.

Several aspects of this account stand out. First, the extreme breakdown in screening that occurred as the Army was expanded rapidly to meet the size NATO projected would be necessary for the handoff of security responsibility when NATO troops leave in late 2014 is highlighted by the discovery of soldiers with “incomplete or forged” documents. Also, it appears that this re-screening is just as sloppy, as Azimi did not provide precise figures on how many soldiers have been re-evaluated or even how many had been removed from the force. Add to that the admission that some soldiers were removed on the basis of suspicion rather than firm evidence.

Finally, though, there is one detail that has nagged me both in this story and in other stories from the past week or so where there have been passing references to the failure to issue “credentials” to recruits who have completed training. It is well-known that the US maintains a huge biometric database in which fingerprint and iris data on a huge number of individuals is stored. I was under the impression that the database includes both villagers who have been screened for potential militant links and ANA or ANP personnel who have completed training. With such an important tool already at hand, why has there not been a program to issue something like photo ID’s with embedded chips allowing re-screening of ANA or ANP personnel any time a question arises? This would seem like an obvious step to get around the issue of stolen uniforms contributing to the insider attacks, and yet there seems to be no mention of it being implemented.

In a separate development, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen telephoned Hamid Karzai to urge further action to stem the attacks:

 NATO’s head called Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday to express “deep concerns” about a surge in rogue attacks on foreign soldiers.


In a telephone call with Karzai, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen “reaffirmed our continued commitment to the ISAF mission and emphasized that the strategy remains on track,” spokeswoman Carmen Romero said.


Rasmussen outlined measures to try to stop the insider attacks that include strengthening vetting procedures, better counter-intelligence and cultural awareness training, and he urged Karzai to join in those efforts, Romero said.

As noted above, even this new re-vetting of the Army seems to me to be falling short of the level that would be needed to remove the bulk of the threat. The call for better counter-intelligence becomes a bit sinister here, as Karzai’s new nominee to head the National Directorate of Security is known for his reliance on torture. However, the most outstanding item in that list from Rasmussen is the final one. After being present in the country over ten years, NATO is finally admitting that there is a need for “cultural awareness training” on the part of its troops. Given the extreme cultural divide described in the report that the US tried to retroactively classify, the question arises of whether so much damage has been done on this front that repairing it will take longer than the projected time for NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan. At the very least, if the most offensive actions can be curbed, then it stands to reason that a few lives can be saved.

11 replies
  1. eCAHNomics says:

    You can’t make this shit up. The level of incompetence is legion. Incomplete docs, and the U.S. is just noticing.

  2. Duncan says:

    “… even this new re-vetting of the Army seems to me to be falling short of the level that would be needed to remove the bulk of the threat.”

    This made me chuckle. The bulk of the threat will be removed only when the invaders are removed.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    Good article, Jim.

    “Hundreds were sacked or detained after showing links with insurgents. In some cases we had evidence against them, in others we were simply suspicious,” Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi told reporters in Kabul.

    I know you caught and commented on this, but it’s worth re-emphasizing, because starting a witchhunt or conducting a purge, wherein we know old and traditional or new and personal grudges will also be executed, is probably not going to bring better security.

    Also, on Mr. Rasmussen… I think it’s worth pointing out yet again that this NATO chief is himself complicit in the transfer of Iraqi prisoners by Danish forces to Iraq authorities, even as they knew they would be tortured, or in the cover-up of this, as I wrote in a Truthout article that was well-received in Denmark, where Rasmussen was once prime minister (during our “Bush II” years).

    The Denmark scandal continued, but I didn’t have time to continue writing about it. I had hoped someone in the US press would pick that up, but no one did. Not surprised. Last April, a commission on Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq War. The second goal of the commission is “to investigate the treatment of prisoners held by Danish soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan after claims Danish forces illegally handed over prisoners that were subsequently tortured.” (

    After Tony Blair, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was probably the foremost European politician pushing the aggressive war position on Iraq, and then covering up the use of torture by coalition and Iraq forces.

    But Rasmussen’s liberal allies now in power are not much better, late last year the Danish Social Democratic and Socialist Peoples Party coalition government it was “dropping plans to investigate whether the US has sent secret flights with prisoners via Danish airspace, en route to torture and interrogations. The new Foreign Minister of Denmark, Villy Søvndahl, of the Socialist Peoples Party, has recently declared that the government would not investigate Denmarks possible involvement in secret CIA-Prisoners Transports.”

    Reminds me of another political party in the US that followed Bush into power. Now who could that be?

  4. emptywheel says:

    This account of the vetting process suggests they’re getting hung up on PRECISELY the same issues that led to them having (still having, in significant numbers) a bunch of men based on suspicions about identity simply bc these guys don’t have addresses and names like they’re used to.

  5. EH says:

    It seems to be that for it not to fall short, they’re going to have to go for the “start over” option, which seemed to me to be what was going to happen via yesterday’s stories, but this one seems to be something less than that.

  6. Garrett says:

    There’s a rumor that parts of the Afghan security forces are empty anyways. The basic scam is that some poor rural kid will sign up. He gets the basic literacy training. An AK-47. And a couple of paychecks. He then goes home to his remote valley. Some corrupt official then gets his remaining paychecks.

    Also, the widespread rumor of the kid that signs up, goes home, signs up, goes home. The non-existence of the highly-touted biometric database is at issue about it.

    Even here, I’m inclined to emphasis the massive American corruption.

    Not being able to provide a real Afghan security force, they deliver a counterfeit. And put massive advertising effort into convincing us that the counterfeit is the real thing, with a few minor blemishes. What could be more corrupt than that?

    Real guesses at Afghan security force desertion rates always come from Afghan officials, not American. They are less corrupt about it, they are more truthful, than we are.

    I hope the islamofascist kid, up in the remote valley, is able to use our corrupt money to get access to a livable plot of land for a small farm.

    And that we don’t send one of our ‘arbakai’ things up his valley. It’ll just stir up tribal tensions, and he’ll end up losing his plot of land.

    I’d kind of like to build a well in his village. And, where possible, a school for girls.

    But we don’t much do that sort of thing. We like big boondoggle projects siphoning very large amounts of money to our large military contractors. At a national cultural level, how hopelessly mired in corruption is that?

    The story about the kid, and the corrupt official getting the paycheck, and us corruptly funding the scheme, is rumor. We spend trillions, and we can’t even get a basic accounting of what we pay for. How corrupt is that?

  7. Garrett says:

    Here’s a 2007 60 Minutes about Special Forces in the Pech valley.

    We actually really truly

    Logan witnessed a live-fire exercise for the Afghan soldiers who will gradually take control. The Afghan soldiers wear the uniform designed by Green Berets in Vietnam and their “tiger stripes” are now a familiar sight throughout the valley.

    dressed them up in Vietnam tiger suits.

  8. mlnw says:

    Isn’t this ‘cultural awareness’ stuff getting a bit touchy feely? How about an Afghan response to Rasmussen that says ‘get the hell out of my house, leave my family and neighbors alone, and go far, far away you g…d… cheese danish?

  9. Jim White says:

    @mlnw: Sounds like it on the surface, but the “cultural awareness” training is really just fancy talk for teaching the troops not to be total assholes to the Afghans and informing them of basic things about Afghan culture that they are unlikely to know. Click on the link to the report in the post. There’s a very long list of behaviors ours troops exhibit that really pisses off the trainees.

  10. Sailornuntown says:

    Why is it (apparently) so hard for our military leadership to grasp that virtually from day one both in Afghanistan and Iraq our actions, methods, and words have more often than not cultivated if not seething resentment then outright hatred from the people we deluded ourselves into thinking we were helping.

    I recall JOKER ONE by Donovan Campbell a memoir of his tour in Iraq as the lieutenant of a marine platoon. Campbell was a Princeton graduate and someone whose writing (at first) would lead one to believe he was more wise and self-aware than most of his brethren. Yet, throughout the narrative he wrote how confounding and mysterious he found the often less than welcoming and cooperative attitude of local Iraqis. Once, he and his men had rounded up a large group of men from a village, bound them together, then loaded them into the open back of a truck so they could be transported to an American base for “questioning.” The truck had gone just a few meters before it ran into a gulley and flipped over trapping its passengers in the shallow water where several died. Campbell writes how upset HE was and how helpless HE felt as he watched the tragedy unfold. He also describes the hysteria and fury of the women of the village who are also helpless bystanders. He’s attitude is (to paraphrase), “I know these people are mad but why take it out on us? Can’t they get it through their heads that we’re upset too, that we didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt?”

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