Still steadfastly refusing to admit publicly that its Afghanistan strategy has failed completely and that a new, more rapid timetable for withdrawal must be developed before the November election, the Obama administration and its Department of Defense are reduced to utter confusion in trying to understand the sources of attacks on coalition forces. After halting most joint US-Afghan operations in the middle of September, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta led efforts last Thursday to claim that joint operations had returned to “nearly normal” levels while claiming that each joint operation would be evaluated carefully to reduce risks. It took less than two days for that evaluation process to be shown to be useless, as two Americans and three Afghan troops were killed in an exchange of gunfire while out on joint patrol.
The investigation into this event stands as a microcosm of the confused state of affairs in Afghanistan as the US struggles to understand that resistance to the presence of US forces now spreads through virtually all of Afghanistan and that uniforms for Afghan security forces are a tool for getting close to US targets. The military first announced Saturday’s attack as a green on blue killing and then backed off, claiming for a while that perhaps insurgents who were not a part of the joint patrol fired first and that US forces fired on the Afghan forces out of confusion. Yesterday, the Washington Post published details from a leaked report that suggests that it was indeed a member of the Afghan National Army platoon in the joint patrol who first opened fire and that he was quickly joined by other members of his patrol. Despite all of the accumulating evidence that Aghans resent our presence in the country, defense officials express surprise and confusion that multiple members of an Afghan patrol could all turn their weapons on US forces:
Two days after the U.S. military resumed joint operations with Afghan security forces last week following a spate of “insider attacks,” a platoon of American soldiers stopped at an Afghan army checkpoint in a volatile eastern province.
The Americans had a cordial conversation and cracked a few jokes with their Afghan comrades during the Saturday afternoon patrol in Wardak province. The Afghans offered the Americans tea. Then, according to a U.S. military official, an Afghan soldier, without warning or provocation, raised his weapon and opened fire — mortally wounding the senior American on the patrol.
In a war in which insider attacks have become commonplace, what happened next made the incident extraordinary, the American official said. Another Afghan soldier at the checkpoint opened fire on the Americans, killing a U.S. civilian contractor and wounding two other American soldiers. Soon, Afghan soldiers and possibly insurgents began firing at the Americans from several directions.
A preliminary military report, however, has concluded that the gunfight began only after an Afghan soldier opened fire on U.S. troops, according to the American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“What sets this apart is that there were multiple attackers from multiple positions and there was zero provocation,” said the official, who had access to the report but was not authorized to speak for the record. 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.”
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
Just because I happened to read one post and point out a small error before going on a beach walk, Marcy had a hard time believing I really did go on vacation last week. While I was gone, one of the topics I usually track carefully went completely out of control. The rate of green on blue attacks in Afghanistan spiked dramatically, with today’s nonfatal attack bringing the total to five attacks in the past week:
An Afghan policeman opened fire on NATO forces and Afghan soldiers Monday morning in the fifth apparent attack in a week by Afghan security forces on their international partners. The U.S.-led military coalition says none of its service members were killed.
At least seven American service members have been killed in the past week by either their Afghan counterparts or attackers wearing their uniforms.
Notably, NATO is unable to deviate from its current script of claiming the attacks are all “isolated incidents” and that we should consider just how large the Afghan forces are becoming due to our superior recruiting and training:
Coalition officials say a few rogue policemen and soldiers should not taint the overall integrity of the Afghan security forces and that the attacks have not impeded plans to hand over security to Afghan forces, which will be 352,000 strong in a few months.
But the same AP article doesn’t seem to buy the NATO spin:
A recent rash of “green-on-blue” attacks, in which Afghan security forces or attackers wearing their uniforms turn their guns on the coalition troops training them, has raised worries about a deterioration of trust between the two sides as well as the quality of the Afghan police and soldiers who will take over full security responsibility for fighting the Taliban when most international troops leave by the end of 2014. It also raises renewed worry that insurgents may be infiltrating the Afghan army and police despite heightened screening.
When AP wire stories begin to describe the problems with Afghan force training in terms of “deterioration of trust” and express concerns about the “quality of Afghan police and soldiers” while also pointing out infiltration by insurgents, it is clear that the Obama administration and NATO are losing their propaganda campaign in which they continue to insist that everything is just fine in Afghanistan and that progress toward the hand-off of security responsibility in 2014 is on schedule.
But the spike in green on blue attacks isn’t the only bad news in Afghanistan. In addition to attacking NATO forces, infiltrators in the Afghan police force are killing fellow policemen and defecting in large groups. Also, local officials in Afghanistan continue to be targeted in attacks.
Slightly Better News
On another front, more evidence is accumulating on improved relations and information sharing between the US intelligence community and Pakistan’s ISI. Continue reading
On April 30, AP’s Robert Burns revealed that the number of attacks on NATO soldiers by Afghan military and police had been systematically under-reported because only attacks resulting in fatalities were reported. An attack in Herat, Afghanistan over the weekend now raises the possibility that another category of Afghan attacks on personnel associated with the NATO coalition’s efforts is also under-reported. In Sunday’s attack, three contractors involved in training Afghan forces were killed, but the Reuters report on this attack mentions that since those killed were contractors and not military personnel, the attack was not “technically” a green on blue attack. Ironically, Burns’ exposure of the under-reporting on non-fatal attacks has resulted in at least some them now being reported, and there was one today.
Burns’ report opens with his discovery of the under-reporting:
The military is under-reporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on American and other foreign troops.
The U.S.-led coalition routinely reports each time an American or other foreign soldier is killed by an Afghan in uniform. But The Associated Press has learned it does not report insider attacks in which the Afghan wounds — or misses — his U.S. or allied target. It also doesn’t report the wounding of troops who were attacked alongside those who were killed.
CNN was the first to report the Herat attack yesterday. It is important to note that they first cite information from an Afghan police official before they cite NATO:
An Afghan policeman opened fire at a training center in western Afghanistan on Sunday, killing three Americans, a police official told CNN.
The Afghan official, who declined to be named, said the three victims were most probably trainers at the West Zone Police Training Center in Herat province. The shooter was also killed, the official said.
NATO spokesman Maj. Adam Wojack said the three killed were civilian contractors working for the International Security Assistance Force. He could not confirm their nationality or what their specific jobs were.
Three British soldiers were killed today in Helmand province in Afghanistan, extending the rising trend of green on blue killings where Afghan security forces turn their weapons on NATO personnel. Because NATO systematically under-reports green on blue attacks by only reporting on attacks in which NATO personnel are killed, not when they are injured or escape injury, we have only an incomplete picture of how rapidly the attacks are growing.
Reuters brings us the details of today’s killings:
An Afghan policeman shot dead three British soldiers at a checkpoint in southern Helmand province on Sunday, Afghan officials said, the latest in a chain of increasingly frequent rogue killings.
A fourth British soldier was also injured, provincial governor spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said of the attack, which could further erode trust between NATO and the Afghan forces they train before most foreign combat troops leave in 2014.
Note that this report cites Afghan authorities on the attack and includes the fact that a fourth British soldier was wounded. That contrasts with the AP report in the Washington Post, where we only learn about the deaths:
Three British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday by a man dressed in the uniform of the country’s police force, Britain’s defense ministry said in a statement Monday.
The ministry said two soldiers from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and one from the Royal Corps of Signals were killed in an incident at Checkpoint Kamparack Pul in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.
The soldiers were part of a police advisory team which had visited the checkpoint to conduct a shura — a meeting of village elders. Defense officials said in a statement that a man wearing the uniform of the Afghan National Civil Order Police opened fire as the soldiers were leaving the checkpoint. They received first aid at the scene but died from their injuries.
It would appear that Britain’s defense ministry is adhering to the same policy as NATO, which the AP’s Robert Burns reported earlier discloses only green on blue deaths, not injuries or attacks which do not produce deaths or injuries: Continue reading