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.
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
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 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
Now that Ramadan is over, General John Allen and the rest of NATO will have to come up with additional explanations for why the rate of green on blue deaths is accelerating so rapidly. Besides the recent discussion of Taliban infiltration and Taliban coercion, another explanation that seems to be hinted at fairly often is that the attacks are going up because we are training more and more Afghan forces.
This explanation is offered outright by Peter Bergen in this CNN story:
Another likely cause of the increase in the number of green-on-blue incidents is straightforward: In the past two years the size of the Afghan army and police force has almost doubled from around 200,000 to around 350,000.
This explanation also was hinted at by Afghanistan’s Army Chief of Staff, General Mohammad Karimi:
Karimi said Afghanistan would also reinforce a vetting procedure that had never been properly employed, allowing cursory or no background checks for new recruits.
A number of the attacks this year were carried out by individuals who faced little scrutiny in getting access to joint U.S. and Afghan bases. This month, an unvetted 15-year-old “tea boy” who had been living on a police base in Helmand province killed three U.S. Marines while they exercised.
“We had a policy for recruiting from Day One, but it hasn’t been implemented. We needed too many people,” Karimi said. “When you need 12,000 people each month — it’s a number so high that we couldn’t implement the policy,”
In order to test this hypothesis, I collected the number of green on blue killings over the years from this database developed by Long War Journal. The data had to be updated yesterday to reflect another three deaths. For Afghan force size, I relied on this database from Brookings (pdf). In order to have annual rates for comparison, this year’s 45 deaths over eight months was adjusted to an annual rate of 67 projected over 12 months.
The number of deaths per year was then adjusted to reflect the annual number of green on blue deaths per 100,000 Afghan security force members. In table form:
Year Green on Blue Deaths per 100,000 Afghan forces
These results are even more striking in graphical form:
NATO force size also has changed over the years as well. I was unable to find a reference with a table of total NATO force size over the years, so I had to rely on this New York Times reference for US deployment levels through late 2009, this article for 2010 and 2011, and finally this reference for current levels. Taking the numbers above and then adjusting the death rates per 100,000 US troops deployed gives numbers of 0.4, 3.5, 7.9, 9.1 and 16.4 for 2008 through 2012, respectively, giving essentially the same trend as seen when not adjusted for US troop strength.
Note that although the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and “training” of Afghan forces began as early as 2003, no green on blue deaths are reported before 2008.
NATO will have to find another explanation besides the rapid expansion of Afghan forces to account for why green on blue deaths have increased so dramatically.
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