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
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
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
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.
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
For several months, I’ve been hammering on the Obama administration and the US military for describing green on blue attacks in Afghanistan, where Afghan military or police personnel attack NATO forces, as “isolated incidents“. In choosing the framing of isolated incidents, these officials are ignoring a seminal report issued just under a year ago, “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf), which went into great detail in describing the cultural misunderstandings that lead Afghan forces to attack their coalition “partners”. Shortly after the report was released as unclassified, the US seemed to realize how damaging it is to the preferred narrative of isolated incidents explaining the attacks, and so it was decided that the report should be retroactively classified.
Yesterday, the AP’s Robert Burns made a major breakthrough in the story of green on blue attacks. Burns reported that the US military, in the form of ISAF, has maintained a policy of not reporting on soldiers who are wounded in green on blue attacks. As a result of reporting only fatalities, both the number of attacks and the number of coalition troops affected by them have been significantly under-reported:
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.
Jamie Graybeal, an ISAF spokesman in Kabul, disclosed Monday in response to repeated AP requests that in addition to 10 fatal insider attacks so far this year, there have been two others that resulted in no deaths or injuries, plus one attack that resulted in wounded, for a total of 13 attacks. The three non-fatal attacks had not previously been reported.
Graybeal also disclosed that in most of the 10 fatal attacks a number of other ISAF troops were wounded. By policy, the fact that the attacks resulted in wounded as well as a fatality is not reported, he said.
If the subject were not so serious, Graybeal’s explanation for why ISAF does not report incidents in which soldiers are wounded would be laughable:
Asked to explain why non-fatal insider attacks are not reported, Graybeal said the coalition does not disclose them because it does not have consent from all coalition governments to do so.
Never mind that since the bulk of forces in Afghanistan are US, most of those wounded would be US soldiers, Graybeal would have us believe that he can’t report on US soldiers being wounded because he doesn’t have express permission to report when soldiers from other coalition countries are wounded in green on blue attacks.
Burns got Graybeal to repeat the “isolated incident” mantra:
Graybeal said each attack in 2012 and 2011 was “an isolated incident and has its own underlying circumstances and motives.”
Burns completes that paragraph with a reference to and a quote from the retroactively classified report, but he merely refers to it as unclassified, passing over the hypocritical actions the military took in trying to classify the report once it began to be noticed.
Congratulations to Robert Burns on his excellent work in forcing ISAF, through Graybeal, to disclose what had previously been hidden intentionally.