Citing a “former American official”, the New York Times today dubbed insider, or green on blue, attacks as “the signature violence of 2012″ as it provided information directly from an Afghan soldier who turned his gun on US troops on May 11 of this year in Kunar province, killing one US soldier and wounding two as the US soldiers were visiting the Afghan post where Mahmood, the attacker, was stationed.
The Times points out that despite the Taliban’s claims that they have many infiltrators within Afghan forces, in the case of Mahmood, he took the initiative in approaching the Taliban once he decided that he wished to carry out an attack. It appears that local opinions where he was stationed played a role in shaping his decision:
But until May, he worked and fought alongside foreigners without incident. The change came in the Ghaziabad District of Kunar, where he ended up after the start of 2012, he said.
The area is thick with Taliban, along with Islamists from Pakistan. Many residents sympathized with the insurgents and often complained to Afghan soldiers about the abuses committed by Americans and the failure of Afghan soldiers to control much of anything beyond the perimeter of their own outpost, Mr. Mahmood said. The Taliban, they glorified.
Listening to villagers, Mr. Mahmood became convinced that the foreigners had killed too many Afghans and insulted the Prophet Muhammad too many times. He wanted to be driving them out, not helping them stay. The villagers’ stories “strengthened my desire to kill Americans with my own fingers,” he said.
The article provides hope that the military is finally gaining a real perspective on the issues highlighted in the seminal report “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf), which the military first retroactively classified and then embraced as it raced to respond to the growing crisis of insider attacks by preparing “training materials” implementing (in a very crude way) some of the recommendations from the report. But it now appears that the military is stumbling its way toward a deeper understanding of how cultural flashpoints are symptomatic the larger problem that the US simply is not welcome in Afghanistan:
But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings. Continue reading
It has been a horrific weekend for NATO forces in Afganistan. Friday, insurgents infiltrated the air base where Britain’s Prince Harry is stationed and destroyed a large number of aircraft and facilities. The infiltration was aided by the attackers wearing US uniforms. Saturday, two British troops were killed by a member of the Afghan Local Police and today four US soldiers were killed by a group of Afghan National Police. The six green on blue deaths bring the total for this year to 51.
Here is the latest information from ISAF on Friday’s attack:
Following the 14 September attack at Camp Bastion, in which two Coalition service members were killed when insurgents attacked the base’s airfield, the International Security Assistance Force provides the following additional details. Because it is still early in the investigation of this attack, this information is subject to change as new details become available:
The attack commenced just after 10 p.m. when approximately 15 insurgents executed a well-coordinated attack against the airfield on Camp Bastion. The insurgents, organized into three teams, penetrated at one point of the perimeter fence.
The insurgents appeared to be well equipped, trained and rehearsed.
Dressed in U.S. Army uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests, the insurgents attacked Coalition fixed and rotary wing aircraft parked on the flight line, aircraft hangars and other buildings.
Six Coalition AV-8B Harrier jets were destroyed and two were significantly damaged. Three Coalition refueling stations were also destroyed. Six soft-skin aircraft hangars were damaged to some degree.
Coalition forces engaged the insurgents, killing 14 and wounding one who was taken into custody. In addition to the two Coalition service members that were killed, nine Coalition personnel – eight military and one civilian contractor – were wounded in the attack. None of their injuries are considered life-threatening.
Danger Room provides some perspective on the issue of insurgents having access to US uniforms:
Nor is Friday’s attack the first perpetrated by insurgents disguised as U.S. troops. In 2010, following a spate of such attacks, the Pentagon ordered the Army to begin treating stocks of uniforms as “sensitive”and remove them from “pilferable” ground resupply convoys moving through Pakistan. “There is evidence that the enemy is using pilfered out-garment uniform items to gain a tactical advantage,” the Pentagon warned.
The unanswered question from Friday’s attack is did the insurgents hang on to uniforms obtained in 2010 or were the steps taken to secure the supply of uniforms breached recently? How many more uniforms do the insurgents have?
Danger Room also points out there there is a high-profile target at Camp Bastion and that there have been other recent attacks aimed at high-profile NATO targets: Continue reading
On Saturday, I noted that the move by US Special Operations forces to halt training of Afghan Local Police and Afghan special forces while those entire forces were re-screened for security threats meant that there would need to be an equivalent action taken on the larger effort to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police while they are re-screened:
So, while only Special Operations forces have suspended training for now, it is hard to see how this will not extend to all training of Afghan security forces soon, because the lapses in screening of recruits applies equally to the much larger ANA and ANP forces (approximately 350,000 for those two forces combined, compared to various estimates in the 20,000 range for the ALP and Afghan special forces when combined).
Even though it was a holiday weekend, it is remarkable that Pentagon Spokesman George Little was taken so off-guard in this line of questioning that Marcy pointed me to in Tuesday’s transcript:
Barbara, do you have a question?
Q: Thanks, two questions. On green-on-blue or insider attacks, what I didn’t hear you mention was that — what ISAF tells us is essentially all 350,000 Afghan security forces either have gone or are going through the process of being re-screened. And that comes from ISAF. So what would you — what does — what do you say to the families who have lost loved ones or their colleagues in the military after so many incidents this year alone? Who’s accountable for it taking so long for the U.S. military, for the coalition to realize they had to re-screen? Because for months, we were told isolated incidents, and apparently not.
MR. LITTLE: Well, let me put this in some perspective here, Barbara. It’s not that we have come only recently to this issue. We’ve taken it seriously for some time. In March of this year, six months ago, the — ISAF issued a tactical directive — and let me just list all that that tactical directive contained. It made it the adoption of specific and tailored force protection measures. Personnel and increased risks from insider attack were required to undertake specific close quarter combat and active shooter training. All commands are required to conduct refresher training, particularly for mentors and others who routinely work side-by-side with Afghans.
The directive required additional in-theater cultural awareness training. The directive also asked that coalition force units create safe zones inside ANSF compounds where they can defend themselves if necessary. And more recently, there’s been a great deal of focus by General Allen and his team on the importance of Guardian Angels, small unit leadership, and counterintelligence matters that will help identify potential attackers early on.
Q: But why did it take — and I have a follow-up to this, please — why did it take so long for the military in the department to come to the conclusion that 350,000 troops had to be re-screened? Why did (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: Three hundred and fifty thousand troops? Continue reading
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. Continue reading
The skyrocketing rate of green on blue attacks, where Afghan security forces turn their weapons on NATO troops, is forcing such desperate measures that NATO has given orders for all coalition troops to remain armed at all times, even when “inside the wire” on US bases, and General John Allen went so far yesterday as to suggest that Ramadan fasting may have contributed to the latest uptick in these attacks. We learn today from the New York Times that NATO has released figures for green on green attacks, where Afghan troops kill one another. The green on green killings exceed the green on blue figures. Recent history tells us, however, that even if NATO releases the final set of data to complete the full picture on inside the wire deaths (the depressingly high suicide rate, which exceeds the combat death rate, is known) and gives us data on blue on blue deaths (more commonly referred to in the US press as “friendly fire” deaths), those numbers are likely to be so low as to lead to speculation that the real rate is being hidden.
The Times story on green on green deaths begins in a straightforward way:
Even as attacks by Afghan security forces on NATO troops have become an increasing source of tension, new NATO data shows another sign of vulnerability for the training mission: even greater numbers of the Afghan police and military forces have killed each other this year.
So far, Afghan soldiers or police officers have killed 53 of their comrades and wounded at least 22 others in 35 separate attacks this year, according to NATO data provided to The New York Times by officials in Kabul. By comparison, at least 40 NATO service members were reported killed by Afghan security forces or others working with them.
NATO displays a remarkable bit of ironic cluelessness when they describe to the Times how they think these killings come about. After first mentioning Taliban coercion of new recruits in the Afghan forces, NATO then moves on to describe the same sorts of cultural clashes among Afghan recruits that have been described as underlying green on blue attacks in a report that the US chose to retroactively classify. NATO has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the cultural clashes that underlie green on blue attacks but is now rolling them out to describe green on green:
Further, there are concerns about cultural clashes within the rapidly expanding Afghan forces themselves, Afghan and NATO officials say, raising questions about their ability to weather the country’s deep factional differences after the NATO troop withdrawal in 2014.
“Three decades of war can play a pivotal role in the internal causes,” said Maj. Bashir Ishaqzia, commander of the Afghan National Police recruitment center in Nangarhar Province. He said one of the biggest challenges for the army and police forces was a lasting “culture of intolerance among Afghans, as well as old family, tribal, ethnic, factional, lingual and personal disputes.”
Robert Burns of AP has a new story out today on the issue of green on blue killings. It appears that the increasing frequency of these attacks has driven General John Allen, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, to grasping for even the lamest excuse for why these attacks have spiked of late:
The rising number of attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan police and soldiers may be due in part to the stress on Afghan forces from fasting during the just-concluded Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Thursday.
He cited Ramadan and the requirement for Muslims to not eat or drink during daylight hours as another factor.
“It’s a very tough time for these (Afghan) forces,” he said, particularly since they were fasting during the heat of the summer and the peak of the fighting season and have been facing combat strains for many years.
“We believe that the combination of many of these particular factors may have come together during the last several weeks to generate the larger numbers” of attacks, he said. Already this month there have been at least 10 “insider” attacks by Afghans, killing 10 Americans. The latest was Sunday when an Afghan police officer opened fire inside a police station in the southern district of Spin Boldak, killing a 55-year-old U.S. Army soldier.
Allen seems to want us to ignore that Ramadan ended with the Eid al-Fitr feast on Saturday night and the attacker on Sunday would have been able to eat on a normal schedule. Maybe the stress of fasting lingers after daytime eating has returned. In his coverage of Allen’s press conference, Spencer Ackerman noted that Ramadan moves around on the Western calendar:
One possible contributing factor: the holy month of Ramazan, which most of the Muslim world calls Ramadan. Although Ramazan is an annual event, it doesn’t occur at the same time annually on the western calendar, and this year it fell during the summer fighting season. The “daily pressures” of war and the “sacrifices associated with fasting,” especially with a larger and newer force of Afghan recruits, may have contributed to some Afghan forces snapping.
Last year, Ramadan also was in August, so it’s hard to see how it had a huge effect this year and not last year.
But the ongoing push by the military to ignore the retroactively classified report explaining that extreme cultural insensitivity on the part of American soldiers plays a major role in Afghans turning their weapons on them continues to have a horrible fallout as more and more Afghans attack American and other NATO troops. With the looming deadline of withdrawal of NATO forces by the end of 2014 and NATO trainers knowing that this can only occur if Afghan forces are seen as capable of taking over security responsibility, it is easy to see how there might a bit more pressure exerted in the training process and how this pressure could cross cultural boundaries, prompting attacks.
Although Ackerman portrayed Allen in the press conference as “not…telling the public — or the Pentagon, or the Karzai government, or the Obama administration — what it might want to hear”, I see no evidence of Ackerman (or Burns, for that matter) following up on an interesting discrepancy in the description of the role of the Taliban in green on blue attacks.
Yesterday, I noted the dramatic increase recently in green on blue attacks in Afghanistan, where Afghan security personnel turn their weapons on NATO forces. This disturbing development clearly has rattled both the US military and the press, because their responses have been entirely bungled.
Late yesterday, we learned from CNN that all NATO troops will now be required to carry loaded weapons at all times, even while on their bases:
The uptick in attacks by Afghan security forces against coalition troops has hit home, with all troops at NATO headquarters and all bases across Afghanistan now ordered to carry loaded weapons around the clock, CNN learned Friday.
Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, ordered the move, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the orders. The order, made in recent days, was divulged amid two more so-called green-on-blue or insider attacks Friday.
This move sets the stage for accidental friendly fire deaths (blue on blue in this case) set off by an unexpected noise. If I were an enlisted US soldier with brown skin and black hair, you can bet I’d wear my uniform 24/7 on the base and be ready to dive for the floor quickly when the bullets start flying.
NATO official posturing on the attacks is at least changing slightly. Despite increasing documentation of green on blue killings and outright defections by Afghan forces, NATO now grudgingly admits some infiltration is occurring, but their estimate seems to me to be a serious lowball:
NATO says the majority of attacks by Afghan security forces against coalition troops are driven primarily by personal grievances rather than an infiltration by insurgents.
“Some 10% we know are related to the insurgency,” Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, said late Friday.
Perhaps the most stunning failure of all, though, in the surge of coverage of increased green on blue (I still can’t get completely to the new official-speak of “insider”) attacks, is this morning’s brainless Washington Post article looking “behind the scenes” at an attack from last week. The Post opens by laying out a number of facts surrounding the attack:
The teenage assailant who killed three Marines last week on a U.S. military base in southern Afghanistan had easy access to the weapons arsenal of the Afghan police. He was in near-constant contact with U.S. troops, often when they were without their guns and body armor.
But although Aynoddin, 15, lived among American and Afghan security forces, he was not a soldier or a police officer. He had never been vetted. According to U.S. and Afghan officials, his role on base was hardly formal: He was the unpaid, underage personal assistant of the district police chief.
Officials would later learn that the quiet, willowy boy was also working for the insurgency.
Nowhere in the article, however, does the Post point out that it is the US, and specifically the “advisors” whom the infiltrator targeted, who had been responsible for training the Afghan security forces the youth infiltrated. Continue reading
At least eleven Afghan soldiers were killed yesterday in two separate attacks. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for both attacks. In the Washington Post’s coverage of the attacks, they take second billing to the attack on the NATO fuel tankers. In both cases, however, apparent Afghan soldiers were involved in the attacks on their fellow troops:
Afghan authorities were investigating whether the checkpoint attack in Helmand’s remote and arid Washer district was organized with the help of an Afghan soldier whose whereabouts since the raid were unknown, said Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor.
“Police reinforcements were sent, and they killed seven Taliban in gun battles,” Ahmadi said.
“We suspect the missing soldier was involved in a plot in the killings of the nine army soldiers but have to investigate this point,” he said.
Also Wednesday, a man wearing an Afghan army uniform blew himself up at a checkpoint in the eastern province of Logar, killing three Afghan troops, the Associated Press reported. The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack.
The New York Times devotes a separate article to the two attacks, and places it in a larger context of increasing deaths among Afghan troops, many of which they attribute to Taliban infiltration of the ranks of Afghan forces. [The Times places the death toll at 11 instead of 12, reporting only 2 deaths in the suicide bombing instead of 3.] The Times notes the strategy behind the Taliban’s attacks:
With the American-led coalition increasingly ceding a greater role in the fight to Afghan forces, one of the chief aims of the Taliban and its insurgent allies has been to show that the Afghan Army and police force are incapable of protecting themselves, never mind ordinary people.
The article goes on to note that there have been 227 deaths of Afghan forces in the last four months, compared to 162 coalition deaths. A rather harsh explanation is provided for why this is noteworthy:
While General Azimi offered no comparative data for Afghan casualties during the same period in previous years, the Afghan Army has in the past often suffered fewer deaths than coalition forces because its soldiers tended to back away from fighting the Taliban.
The Times discusses the infiltration strategy of the Taliban while relaying results of an Afghan court convicting an Afghan soldier in an earlier green on blue attack that killed 4 French soldiers:
The Taliban said the convicted soldier was an infiltrator and praised him for his bravery. The insurgents routinely claim as their own Afghan soldiers who turn their weapons on coalition allies, although coalition and Afghan officials say most of the cases appear to be caused by personal animosity, not insurgent infiltration.
Since coalition reporting of green on blue events is so short on details, discriminating between true infiltrators and events where “personal animosity” takes over on the spur of the moment is not possible in all cases. However, yesterday’s event in which an Afghan soldier facilitated an attack by a larger group of the Taliban on an outpost is not the first time we have seen evidence of obvious coordination between an Afghan soldier and an outside group of attackers. Infiltration seems certain in these sorts of attacks.
The issue of infiltration is a bit murkier in the case of the suicide bomber. The Times points out that Afghan army uniforms are readily available for purchase. Since Afghanistan maintains a biometric database on its forces, if the suicide bomber’s body can be fingerprinted or a face or iris scan can be carried out, it will be possible to say with some certainty whether he was a member of the Afghan forces. Given the coalition’s hesitance to provide details, however, it seems very unlikely the results of such an analysis will be released.
The last 24 hours or so have seen multiple attacks carried out in the Kandahar area. It appears that at least two of them were carried out by men wearing Afghan police uniforms. Only one of these two attacks is now being described as a “green on blue” attack, while the other is described as being carried out by insurgents wearing Afghan police uniforms.
ISAF has released this terse statement about the confirmed green on blue attack that occurred yesterday:
KABUL, Afghanistan (June 19, 2012) — The International Security Assistance Force confirms that three individuals in Afghan Police uniforms turned their weapons against coalition service members in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing one ISAF service member.
The three individuals immediately fled the area and are currently being sought.
The incident is under investigation.
That statement, however, is indicated to be an “update” to an earlier statement which reads:
An International Security Assistance Force service member died of wounds following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan today.
Note that the initial report merely cites “an insurgent attack” while the follow-up says the attack was by “three individuals in Afghan police uniforms”. That sequence of events is important for considering the current reports on the additional attacks around Kandahar.
Here is the New York Times description of the attack today which is described as involving Afghan police uniforms:
Taliban insurgents wearing police uniforms attacked a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing three police officers, local officials said.
NATO confirmed the attack and said fighting was continuing.
The militants’ attack on a police checkpoint in the southwestern of Kandahar city near a major prison left another seven officers wounded, according to the Kandahar governor’s office. Javed Faisal, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said four of the insurgents were killed in the fighting.
A police officer who said he witnessed the fighting said Taliban insurgents first attacked the Afghan police checkpoint and then attacked nearby NATO troops, who returned fire. The police officer did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
How do “Taliban insurgents” come to be in possession of Afghan police uniforms? Are these personnel who trained as police and then went over to the Taliban, taking their uniforms with them? Have the Taliban somehow found a supply of Afghan police uniforms other than from those who leave the police force?
At any rate, given how yesterday’s attack went from being merely an insurgent attack to an attack by individuals in Afghan police uniforms, it will be very interesting to see what additional information comes from the investigation into those involved in today’s attack.