With so much attention focused on Syria, it is important that we don’t lose sight of just how badly the situation in Afghanistan is limping toward a final resolution. There is a report ToloNews website this morning on a memorial service that was held yesterday in Kabul. It’s not clear why the service was held yesterday (the anniversary of the US invasion isn’t until early October), but the service was described as honoring both foreign and Afghan soldiers who have fallen in the war. While the words attributed to Dunford were simple enough in deploring terrorism, the quotes attributed to Afghan figures were appalling in their attempts to use a solemn occasion to shill for what their US military handlers want in the coming months:
Highlighting on the importance of support from the international community post-2014, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) requested the international community to continue assisting the Afghan forces by providing equipment and proper training post-2014.
The battle of Afghanistan against terrorism has seen some big sacrifices in terms of military and civilian casualties. Over the past 12 years, since the beginning of the Afghan war, over 3,000 foreign soldiers and over 10,000 Afghan soldiers have lost their lives.
The foreign forces’ combat mission is scheduled to end in the next few months, but a greater question looms large with regard to how effective has the fight against terrorism been over the past 12 years?
In light of this, Bismillah Mohammadi, the Minister of Defence expressed concerns over the training and equipping of the Afghan Security Forces post-2014. Mr. Mohammadi urged the international community to continue assisting the Afghan forces beyond 2014.
“We urge the international community to equip and train the Afghan Security Forces post- 2014,” said Mr. Mohammadi.
And how well is all that “training” going? Pretty much as we saw before. Despite massive efforts by the US to re-screen Afghan personnel in the military and to decrease the number of interaction points between Afghan recruits and their trainers, there was another green on blue killing on Saturday. From ToloNews:
“Three International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) service members died when an individual wearing an Afghan National Security Forces uniform shot them in eastern Afghanistan today,” a statement from the coalition said.
A US defence official confirmed to AFP that the three victims were from the United States.
An Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the attack happened during a training session in the insurgency-hit province of Paktia.
The Afghan soldier opened fire on US soldiers, killing two on the spot, he said. A third later died of his wounds.
The attacker was killed when Americans and Afghan soldiers returned fire.
The article, which originally comes from AFP, lists the various programs the US has put into place in response to green on blue killings. By listing these programs in such proximity, we can see how they are self-contradictory:
There have been seven “insider attacks” this year against coalition forces, compared with 48 in 2012. ISAF officials say the decline has been due to better vetting, counter-intelligence and cultural awareness.
Foreign soldiers working with Afghan forces are regularly watched over by so-called “guardian angel” troops to provide protection from their supposed allies.
The military really wants us to believe that they have finally learned cultural awareness and that they have put into place appropriate screening and counterintelligence processes that will eliminate threats. And those programs are working so well that the military now assigns soldiers to act as armed guards during training sessions.
At the height of the green on blue killing outbreak, one aspect that stood out was that the attackers often had access to Afghan military and police uniforms whether they were actual members of these groups or not. As the Taliban shift their targets this year to attacking the Afghan military and government, it appears that the tactic of attackers disguising themselves in official uniforms is continuing. Today, there was a major attack on a court complex (and a nearby bank office) where Taliban attackers were wearing Afghan National Army Uniforms.
From the New York Times:
A group of eight Taliban insurgents dressed in Afghan Army uniforms staged a complex assault on a provincial government compound in Western Afghanistan on Wednesday morning, killing at least six officials and civilians and seizing several hostages in one of the buildings, officials and witnesses said.
Officials said that the violence in Farah began after insurgents detonated a Ford Ranger laden with explosives near the entrance of the government compound. Government officials said the Taliban seized the second floor of the provincial court building, which is near the offices of the mayor, prosecutor and the governor, among other officials.
In addition to the at least six people killed in the attack, roughly 75 others were wounded, including women and children, according to hospital officials. Shah Mohammad Noor, head of the regional Court for western Afghanistan, said four of the attackers had been killed so far.
“The firefight is still ongoing,” said Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, the governor of Farah province. “The terrorists are still resisting.”
We learn from Reuters that the timing of the attack was not random, as the court proceedings going on at the time were specifically targeted:
Five militants stormed a court in Afghanistan on Wednesday where Taliban insurgents were standing trial, killing seven people and wounding 75, officials said.
At least one of the attackers blew himself up and a gun battle between Afghan security forces and an insurgent holed up inside the court was going on in the capital of the western province of Farah, near the Iranian border, said provincial deputy governor Mohammad Younis Rasouli.
“They stormed the court as a trial was being held to convict 10 Taliban fighters,” he told Reuters, adding that four civilians and three members of the security forces were killed.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to media, spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said, adding that the insurgents standing trial had been freed in the attack.
I suppose there could be a language or translation issue here, but the matter of fact statement that the “trial was being held to convict 10 Taliban fighters” kind of stands out here as not quite in line with the usual concept of a criminal court proceeding. The willingness of a Taliban spokesman to attach his name to a text claiming credit for the attack while it was still onging is also pretty stunning in its own right.
ToloNews adds that a bank was targeted along with the courthouse:
Several gunmen have launched a coordinated attack on a court building and a private bank branch in western Farah province, killing at least six people and wounding more than 70 others on Wednesday morning, officials said.
Two gunmen, wearing Afghan National Army’s uniform, entered the primary court building and two others managed their way into the provincial branch of New Kabul Bank.
Extra forces have been deployed to gun-down the insurgents.
And AFP (via Dawn) informs us that the Taliban were so open in taking credit for the attack that they even posted it on their website:
Taliban militants fighting the US-backed central government immediately claimed they were behind the attack.
“Our fighters attacked several government buildings in Farah according to their planned tactic. They conducted the attack with small arms and grenades,” the group said on its website.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan public now appears to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban with the US (and NATO) in the process of becoming more spectators than participants.
The Afghan Local Police program was a centerpiece of David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency (COIN) program in Afghanistan when he took over command after Stanley McChyrstal was fired. The program came under extreme scrutiny this week when Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for the expulsion of US Special Operations forces from the province of Maidan Wardak after repeated reports of atrocities carried out by forces claiming to be allied with ALP forces trained by SOF. Today, there is further bad news for the ALP program, as seventeen people have been killed at an ALP post in what appears to be an insider attack. Since the attack occurred early this morning, it should be kept in mind that information is still coming in regarding the details of what took place. Today’s attack was in Ghazni province, which is adjacent to Wardak, as seen in the map here.
Back in September, training of ALP was the first program suspended due to insider attacks. The (delayed by the elections from October) December 2012 “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” (pdf) informed us that the re-screening of ALP was already moving quickly by then:
To mitigate the risk of insider threats, SOJTF-A has taken active measures to re-validate all 16,474 ALP personnel. This revalidation process is currently 52 percent complete, with less than one percent removed due to nefarious activities or counter-intelligence concerns. This process, which is currently ongoing, is very similar in design to our initial screening/validation methodology. It begins at the local level by conducting shuras and intimately involving local elders, who must vouch for each ALP member, ensuring he remains in good standing. Each member’s application paperwork is re-reviewed by various personnel from the Coalition, MoI, NDS, and the DCOPs. If any ALP member “flags” as suspicious, additional counter-intelligence (both Afghan and Coalition) measures are taken. If it is determined that an ALP member is unfit, he is removed from the program. These processes are non-negotiable. In addition, NDS plans to embed three agents per 100 ALP to identify possible infiltration by the enemy. The prevention/elimination of Insider Threats will remain COMISAF’s top force protection priorities.
So Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan claimed in December that they had already revalidated just over half the ALP force and that less than one percent of the force had been removed due to potential nefarious connections. And yet, almost two months later, we now have a major attack on ALP that has the hallmarks of an insider attack. From the New York Times:
A group of 17 Afghan policemen were drugged by their comrades while on duty and then shot to death in their sleep in what appears to be the single worst incident in a string of similar attacks, according to Afghan officials.
The attack took place at a remote Afghan Local Police post in Ghazni Province, south of the capital, early Wednesday morning, according to General Zrawar Zahid, the Ghazni police chief.
Other Afghan officials said authorities had already arrested two policemen who they said were Taliban infiltrators who had carried out the attack.
The AP report carried by the Washington Post suggests that not all the dead were ALP:
The dead included 10 members of the government-backed Afghan local police, and seven of their civilian friends, said Provincial Gov. Musa Khan Akbarzada. He says there was a conspiracy of some sort but declined to confirm if poison was involved.
The previously mentioned December report from DoD has a remarkable level of detail on the status of the ALP, with a snapshot as of September 26, 2012: 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.”
It was announced on Thursday that among a number changes General John Allen, Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, put into place is a program to provide additional security over US troops as they sleep. Remarkably, on the very next day, nine Afghan policemen were gunned down by an apparent Taliban infiltrator. Perhaps Afghan security personnel are even more in need of guardian angels.
Here is the description of the “Guardian Angel” program from The Telegraph:
US military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned “guardian angels” to watch over troops as they sleep, among a series of other increased security measures, in the wake of rogue Afghan soldiers targeting Nato forces.
The added protections are part of a directive issued in recent weeks by Gen John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, to guard against insider threats, according to a senior military official.
The so-called guardian angels provide an extra layer of security, watching over the troops as they sleep, when they are exercising, and going about their day.
Among the new measures introduced, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons in several Afghan ministries. They have also been told to rearrange their office desks so they face the door.
As described, these security measures are an acknowledgment that green on blue killings of US and other NATO forces by Afghans are an increasing problem. Further complicating the prospects for Afghan security personnel to take over as NATO troops withdraw, however, is an incident today in which an Afghan police officer drugged and then killed nine of his colleagues before apparently collecting all their weapons and then speeding off in a truck to rejoin the Taliban. This is the third green on green attack this month and could turn out to be a huge deterrent to recruiting an Afghan security force of the size needed under the current plan for NATO withdrawal and handoff of security.
From the New York Times:
A member of an Afghan militia promoted by the American military to protect rural villages drugged his colleagues and killed at least nine of them as they slept on Friday, the third deadly incident involving the irregular guard force in March.
The killings added to concerns about the militia, known as the Afghan Local Police. Touted by American military commanders as a way to give Afghans a larger stake in battling the insurgency, the local police program has been assailed by rights advocates and many Afghans for bringing former Taliban and criminal elements into positions of armed authority.