Major General Harold J. Greene’s death Tuesday in Afghanistan is noted in the press primarily for him being the highest ranking officer killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. It has been pointed out in a few stories that Greene was deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the primary group responsible for training of Afghan security forces. What I haven’t seen anywhere yet is that it appears Greene only held this role a very short time, as his assignment to CSTC-A was announced on January 8 of this year. Greene was an engineer and held a doctorate in materials science. At the time that he was appointed to CSTC-A, Army Times says that he was “deputy for acquisition and systems management, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Washington, D.C”.
One would presume, then, that Greene was sent to Afghanistan to help train Afghans to improve their notoriously bad system of supplying its troops who are being handed increased responsibilities as US troops draw down. Sadly, though, Greene became a victim of a problem in another part of Afghan forces training that reached its peak in 2012: the killing of US personnel by Afghan security forces, or Green on Blue killings. Although initial reports put the attack as having taken place at the British facility for training Afghan officers, the attack actually took place inside the same complex at Afghanistan’s National Defense University.
Significantly, the Afghan soldier who shot Greene had been a member of the military for three years. More details of the attack come from the Washington Post:
The fatal attack on Tuesday was an acute embarrassment to the Afghan military leadership, because it occurred inside the Afghan equivalent of the U.S. military academy at West Point, and was aimed at a Western VIP delegation that had come to assess the army’s progress in being able to defend the nation as Western forces prepare to leave.
Afghan officials said the shooter, who used the single name Rafiqullah, had just returned from a patrol around midday and was still carrying his weapon when he concealed himself in a bathroom within close range of the delegation, then opened fire. His weapon, described as either an assault rifle or a machine gun, would have been issued by NATO. More than a dozen people were wounded, including eight Americans, a German general and a top Afghan commander of the training facility.
Interestingly, the Post goes to lengths to say the Taliban wasn’t involved in Greene’s attack:
Officials said there was no indication that he was part of a conspiracy or had Taliban sympathies.
While that may be the case, it appears that Greene’s death sparked new activities by Taliban sympathizers within other Afghan security force units yesterday. From the New York Times:
Two attacks by Afghan police officers who were collaborating with the Taliban claimed the lives of 11 police officers in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, officials reported. News of the so-called insider attacks came as the authorities were still grappling with the assassination one day earlier of an American general by an Afghan soldier.
In one attack, a police officer secretly working for the Taliban poisoned five colleagues at a compound in southern Afghanistan, then invited insurgents inside to shoot the stricken officers to death and steal their weapons, the officials said.
Gulab Khan, the provincial head of criminal investigations, said the other assault targeted a national police checkpoint on the outskirts of Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan Province, where Taliban fighters killed the guard on duty, then executed five others as they slept. One officer, believed to be in league with the insurgents, escaped with the militant fighters, according to Doost Mohammad Nayab, the spokesman for the provincial governor.
It’s very difficult to see how things could be much worse for US efforts in Afghanistan. The election, which was to have produced a winner who would quickly sign the Bilateral Security Agreement granting criminal immunity for US troops to stay beyond the end of this year, is still mired in endless squabbling over the recount and shows no prospect for a rapid resolution. Taliban attacks are coming with higher frequency and now insider attacks appear to be restarting.
It looks increasingly unlikely to me that a route to a signed BSA will emerge with sufficient time to keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year. If that turns out to be the case, Greene’s death may well become the event historians hold up as the symbolic end of the US training effort in Afghanistan.
After there had been a lull in Green on Blue attacks in Afghanistan, I noted in describing an attack late last month that an extra layer of security has been added at training facilities for Afghan National Security Forces, so that foreign security personnel act as a buffer between Western and Afghan forces. Reports are just now beginning to filter in on a new Green on Blue attack today at a facility near Kabul. The facility, Camp Qargha, is a training facility for officers in the ANSF and is run by the British. It is often referred to as “Sandhurst in the Sand”: a training facility for Afghan officers modeled after the British officer training school.
Although it is very early in the reporting on this incident (so all of this is subject to change as more is learned) there are at least two reports that suggest a US two-star general has been killed. This German article, using Google translate, tells us:
After the death of the two-star general of the U.S. Army was in NATO of a “black day” the speech Headquarters in Brussels. The ISAF announced that the incident was being investigated.
Further, Michael Yon has tweeted:
American 2 star general reported killed in Afghanistan. German general in bad condition. I asked HQ for more. Nothing yet.
— Michael Yon (@Michael_Yon) August 5, 2014
From the New York Times, we learn that those dead (reports vary from one to four, depending on the source) and wounded all appear to be high ranking officers:
An attacker in an Afghan army uniform killed at least three service members from the NATO-led coalition and wounded a senior Afghan commander on Tuesday in a shooting at a military training academy on the outskirts of Kabul, an Afghan official said.
Details of the shooting, which took place on Tuesday afternoon, were sketchy, and the coalition would only confirm that “an incident” had taken place at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. An Afghan defense official said that at least three coalition officers had been killed, and that a number of other foreign and Afghan officers had been wounded. The dead coalition service members were believed to be senior officers, the Afghan official said.
The Der Spiegel article linked above confirms Yon’s report that a German general was shot, describing his injuries as serious but also stating that he was out of danger and is receiving medical treatment.
The Times article goes on:
The Afghan official and a coalition official said that it appeared that the foreign casualties were high-ranking officers who were taking part in a meeting at the academy.
Lt. Gen. Afzal Aman, the director of operations at Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said that the academy’s commander, Brig. Gen. Ghulam Saki, was wounded in the shooting along with two other senior Afghan officers.
The most confusing issue for me at this point is that most accounts of the incident mention an argument between the shooter and other Afghan troops just prior to shots being fired. It seems very strange that both the shooter and the Afghan troops who eventually killed him in response would be armed in a spot so close to so many high ranking officers, which at this point would seem to be at least one general from Germany, the US and Afghanistan, all of whom appeared to have been shot in the disturbance. If shooting happened during a meeting, that seems like a lot of weapons to be present. Since reports are that the incident took place around noon, I am left to wonder if the shooting took place during lunch.
Since Qargha is a facility for training Afghan officers, I wonder if there is less emphasis on the buffer layer of security that we saw in the July Green on Blue event. The underlying assumption is that once an Afghan soldier is approved for training at Qargha, they would have been through more background checking than standard enlisted trainees. That then prompts the question posed by the strange juxtaposition of the headline and opening paragraph in the Khaama Press account of the shooting, as pictured above. Was the shooter an outside terrorist who gained access to the uniform (and presumably, some identification to go along with it) of an officer trainee, or was the shooter an actual ANA officer trainee who took advantage of an opportunity to inflict very high level damage?
I will track the story through the day and add updates as appropriate.
Update: The New York Times article has now been updated to confirm the death of an unnamed US general.
Update 2: The Washington Post has identified the victim as Harold Greene, who was Deputy Commander of CSTC-A. He was deeply involved in the training effort.
On the surface, today’s suicide attack in Kabul looks like many others, but some details disclosed in the New York Times story on the attack illustrate the lengths to which the US has been forced to go to protect against green on blue attacks in which Afghans kill Americans. The attack took place at Camp Gibson. Those killed were described by the Times as guarding buildings occupied by trainers from Dyncorp at a facility dedicated to counternarcotics operations. Three guards who were killed were from Nepal and one was from Peru, according to the Times. The Washington Post says two were Nepalese, one was Filipino and one was of unknown nationality. The Times explains why there are both Afghan and foreign guards:
Security guards from countries like Nepal and Peru are common at foreign military and diplomatic compounds in Afghanistan. The guards, many of whom are Nepalese veterans of the British Army’s Gurkha regiments, usually provide a layer of security behind the Afghan police and security guards, who man the first line of checkpoints.
The setup is used because of deep concerns about the efficacy and loyalty of the police, a force that is riddled with corruption and drug use. It also provides a final layer of defense should Afghan guards turn on the foreigners they are guarding.
So the outside layer of security consists of Afghan personnel, but the US must use a ring of foreign security personnel to protect against the Afghans turning their weapons on the US personnel they are “guarding”. And it appears that the Afghan who carried out this attack had some help among his fellows in that outside ring of security. The attacker was Afghan, but the uniform he wore matched those of the foreign guards rather than Afghans:
An official from the NATO-led military coalition said there were suspicions that the attacker had inside help. An Afghan in a uniform worn by foreign guards would “strike me as more suspicious, not less, right?” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing his Afghan counterparts.
The Times article points out that previous attacks aimed at US personnel have killed only foreign guards, so this layered security situation likely has been described before, but I didn’t have a full appreciation of how and why it is set up in this way until today.
An interesting detail offered by ToloNews is that the attacker was not new to the facility:
On condition of anonymity a security official said that the suicide bomber was an Afghan security guard working alongside foreign contractors.
“The suicide bomber was an Afghan security guard working alongside foreigners at the anti-narcotics office for many years,” said the security official.
It would be interesting to know whether the attacker had planned all along to carry out such an attack or if he only recently decided to switch sides.
Meanwhile, the “auditing” of ballots from the runoff is proceeding much more slowly than the target rate, so look for more delays before a “final” vote count is released.
Yesterday, Dr. Jerry Umanos and two still unidentified US visitors whom he was greeting were killed outside the Cure International Hospital in Kabul, Dr. Umanos has spent most of each of the last nine years working at Cure International in Kabul while going back to the Chicago area for a few months each year to maintain his clinical practice there as well. The New York Times agonizes over the shooting this morning, noting that there is a “grim trend” in Afghanistan of ” a new wave of so-called green-on-blue shootings spurred by deepening Afghan resentment”. And yet, despite a recitation of the recent attacks on civilians both by the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, the Times ignores what could be a very large clue on just what might have provided the resentment for this particular gunman.
Here are the details of the shooting as recounted by the Times:
The shooting took place at Cure International Hospital, which specializes in the treatment of disabled children and women’s health issues. Afghan police officials said that one of the doctors there was hosting visitors from the United States who, after taking pictures together in front of the hospital, were headed inside when they were attacked.
Among the dead was a pediatrician from Chicago, Dr. Jerry Umanos, who had volunteered at the Cure hospital for almost nine years, treating children and helping train Afghan doctors. There were few details about the other victims on Thursday night.
Afghan officials identified the gunman, who was wounded, as a two-year veteran of the Kabul police force named Ainuddin, who had only recently been assigned to guard the hospital. Witnesses and officials said he fired on the Americans as they approached his security post at the building’s entrance, killing three and wounding a female doctor before entering the interior courtyard and seeking new targets.
The Times provides this description of Cure International:
Cure International, a Christian organization, was started in 1998 in Kenya and now operates hospitals and programs in 29 countries. The organization focuses on health issues for which treatment is difficult to obtain in the developing world, including club foot, cleft palate and untreated burns, according to its website.
A look at the Cure International website shows that the “Christian” part of the organization appears to be particularly strong. From a 2011 blog post by Cure founder Scott Harrison (original links within post retained):
CURE’s mission statement is:
CURE International, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Those words come directly from Jesus’ own instructions to his disciples – first to the twelve and then to the seventy. The partnership of healing the sick and sharing the good news of “God with us” was linked in almost every facet of His life and work, and CURE strives to be a 21st century expression of Jesus’ 1st century healing ministry.
But what is the “kingdom of God”, how do we recognize it when we see it, and how can we partner with God to proclaim it? Fortunately, Jesus addressed many of these questions, and it’s the aim of this series of posts to humbly shed light on those answers through His own words.
Oh my. So just how enthusiastic is Cure International about its mission to proclaim the kingdom of God? Well, one clue comes from word about a new hospital that Cure will be opening later this year in the Philippines. Here is a snippet from their announcement of a search for medical director for the hospital:
CURE International has begun the search for the first Medical Director for the Tebow CURE Hospital in Davao City, Philippines. The hospital, built in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation, will open later this year. CURE is seeking an orthopedic surgeon with experience in a management role and a heart to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God.
Although we have no information about how aggressive Cure International is in “proclaiming the kingdom of God”, their chosen partner for the hospital in the Philippines, Tim Tebow, has a clear history of such proclamations in a very out-front style that often made other players uneasy.
It would appear that even the Washington Post is beginning to see through the way that the Defense Department continues to make outrageous claims regarding the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces. An article published last night to the Post’s website carries the headline “Panetta, other U.S. officials in Kabul paint rosy picture of Afghan situation”. The article opens in conventional news-as-transcription-of-government-narrative fashion:
With Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Kabul to take stock as the Obama administration weighs how quickly to draw down troops over the next two years, a senior U.S. military commander on Wednesday hailed the progress Afghan security forces have made.
Marine Maj. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the head of operations for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said NATO troops have begun a radical shift in mission: doing the bare minimum to support Afghan troops, who, he said, are starting to operate unilaterally. “We’re now un-partnering from” Afghan forces, Nicholson told reporters Wednesday evening. “We’re at that stage of the fight.”
The article then plants a hint, stating that if Afghan forces are seen as achieving capability to function on their own, the US withdrawal can be accelerated from the current plan of taking another two years.
Remarkably, the Post then moves on to provide some perspective for Nicholson’s claim:
The assessment Nicholson offered, however, is far rosier than the one that U.S. officials have provided recently. They have been citing the resilience of the Taliban and the shortcomings of the Afghan government and military.
Just one of 23 Afghan army brigades is able to operate on its own without air or other military support from the United States or NATO, according to a Pentagon report to Congress that was released Monday.
But Nicholson wants us to believe that even though the Defense Department has been lying for years about Afghan troop capabilities, they really, really mean it this time and we should believe them:
Nicholson said that although U.S. commanders have made “disingenuous” claims in the past about the extent to which Afghans were acting as equal partners in joint missions, officials now see the Afghan army as ready to operate largely on its own, albeit with key logistical and financial support from NATO. The new strategy as the United States tries to transfer greater responsibility to the Afghan government and military is one of “tough love,” Nicholson said.
Sadly, Nicholson’s claims appear to have no more credibility than previous DoD claims on ANSF capabilities. Consider this exchange from the briefing held Monday at the Defense Department, featuring as speakers Senior Defense Official “[Briefer name deleted]” and Senior State Department Official “[briefer name deleted]” where we see that the Post isn’t the only media operation that sees through the duplicity. This exchange starts with a question from Lita Baldor of AP [emphasis added]: Continue reading
Ain’t but one way out baby, Lord I just can’t go out that door.
The long-stated “mission” for NATO forces in Afghanistan has been to train Afghan security forces so that they can take responsibility for the nation’s security as NATO forces are withdrawn by the end of 2014. But with most joint operations involving both US and Afghan forces now suspended due to the rapid increase in green on blue killings, that goal seems unobtainable since training is mostly suspended and the high rate of attrition means that the overall size of the ANSF will shrink rapidly. Articles this week from Reuters and the New York Times indicate that major media are now beginning to realize the impossibility of meeting this objective. Reuters brings us details on a green on blue killing from August 27, while the Times goes into detail on what the training program now looks like.
Reuters provides suggestions that the Afghan National Army member responsible for the attack on August 27 was recruited by the Taliban before he joined the ANA. Whether he was Taliban or not, the poor vetting leading to the perpetrator being in the ANA highlights the extent of the problems with the current Afghan forces:
Interviews with Afghan officials suggest that Welayat Khan was not properly vetted. He was admitted to the force seven months before the attack, despite presenting a fake birth certificate and having gotten a flimsy recommendation from a commander who vouched for him simply because the two men were ethnic Pashtuns, according to Afghan sources speaking on condition of anonymity.
might be your man I don’t know
Reuters is not buying the military’s claim that vetting will be better in the future, even though there appears to be no thought given removing the many thousands of current force members who shouldn’t be there:
The Pentagon is promising better vetting of Afghan recruits like Welayat Khan, and NATO last week announced it was scaling back cooperation with Afghans to reduce risk to Western troops. That includes Anders’ unit, stationed at Combat Outpost Xio Haq in Laghman province, in eastern Afghanistan, which, for the moment, has halted joint operations.
But it’s unclear whether the United States or NATO or the Afghan government forces they’re training will be able to stop the next Welayat Khan before he strikes.
In its description of what training has become, the Times describes a day of “training” that is nothing short of farce:
Advisers flew into Bad Pakh last month to teach the Afghans how to load wounded soldiers into an American medevac helicopter. Time permitting, they also planned mortar practice.
But when the Americans flew out 10 hours later, the training day had gone much like three previous ones held here in the past two months: the helicopter never showed. It was either down for maintenance or called away for a more pressing mission. The advisers never got a clear answer why.
Mortar practice also had to be scratched when it turned out the Afghans were missing the sight for their sole mortar tube.
Even more telling is that the Times even points out how the military has resorted to outright lies to present an illusion of progress in training (I previously addressed this particular lie): 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
Patrick Eddington pointed us toward a report (pdf) released yesterday by the GAO. The report is titled “Afghanistan Security: Long-standing Challenges May Affect Progress and Sustainment of Afghan National Security Forces”. GAO describes their reasons for the report (which is also Congressional testimony):
This testimony discusses findings from GAO reports and ongoing work that cover (1) progress reported and tools used to assess ANSF capability, (2) challenges affecting the development of capable ANSF, and (3) use of U.S. Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams to advise and assist ANSF.
The report does a very good job of catching the Defense Department redefining the highest category of ANSF capability in order to claim progress in the percentage of units that have achieved the highest level. However, as Eddington pointed out in his tweet, GAO falls far short of its second goal of enumerating the “challenges affecting the development of capable ANSF”, as the report is entirely silent on the two biggest hurdles faced: defections and green on blue killings.
Here is Reuters’ Missy Ryan describing the use of changed descriptors to claim progress:
The Pentagon’s decision to change the standards used to grade the success of Afghan police and soldiers, who are a centerpiece of U.S. strategy for smoothly exiting the war in Afghanistan, helped it present a positive picture of those forces’ abilities, a U.S. government watchdog reported on Tuesday.
“These changes … were responsible, in part, for its reported increase in April 2012 of the number of ANSF units rated at the highest level,” the Government Accountability Office said in a new report on Afghan national security forces, known as ANSF.
In a twice-annual report to Congress in April 2012, the Defense Department reported that Afghan police and soldiers “continued to make substantial progress,” classifying 15 out of 219 army units as able to operate ‘independently with assistance’ from foreign advisors. Almost 40 out of 435 police units got the same rating.
And what was the redefinition of terms that was used? Merely a slight change that completely negates its meaning:
“Key definitions used in capability assessments … have changed several times,” the GAO said. Its report said the Pentagon’s highest rating for Afghan forces had changed from ‘independent’ in early 2011 to ‘independent with advisors’ later that year.
Gosh, the only way that DoD could show that the ANSF had increased the number of units rated at the highest level of capability was to redefine that highest level of capability. So, instead of “independent”, the most capable units are now “independent with advisors”, which is, you know, NOT independent. Continue reading
Back in February of 2010, US President Barack Obama’s surge of troops in Afghanistan began its offensive by trying to take the Marja district of Helmand Province. Then US commander of forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal famously touted his counterinsurgency program for the area, saying “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in”.
Eight months into the battle for Marja, we had this:
As U.S. involvement in the war enters its 10th year, the failure to pacify this town raises questions about the effectiveness of America’s overall strategy. Similarly crucial operations are now under way in neighboring Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace.
There are signs the situation in Marjah is beginning to improve, but “it’s still a very tough fight,” said Capt. Chuck Anklam, whose Marine company has lost three men since arriving in July. “We’re in firefights all over, every day.”
“There’s no area that’s void of enemy. But there’s no area void of Marines and [Afghan forces] either,” said Anklam, 34, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It’s a constant presence both sides are trying to exert.”
The result, so far at least: Residents say the town is more insecure than ever.
“There was peace here before you came,” farmer Khari Badar told one Marine patrol that recently visited his home. “Today, there is only fighting.”
Of course, the Defense Department would have us believe everything is now fine in Marja. They staged a stroll through the marketplace back in February by a Deputy Defense Secretary, presumably to mark the two year anniversary of the offensive. I wonder if this stroll was as heavily protected as John McCain’s 2007 stroll through a Baghdad marketplace.