There have been increasing incidents of men in Afghan security forces uniform attacking foreign soldiers in Afghanistan. This has given rise to mistrust between the NATO forces and the Afghans they are training.
As many as four US soldiers were killed on September 16 by Afghans dressed in police uniforms. The incident took place at the district headquarter in the Mizan district of Zabul province. It is the latest fatal “insider” attack; the new threat faced by the allied forces in the country. Only on the day before, two British soldiers had died in a similar attack in the southern province of Helmand.
NATO refers to these incidents as “green on blue” attacks wherein Afghans—police, soldiers or individuals wearing the green uniforms—attack the blue-clad coalition forces.
These attacks are a cause of great worry as regards the security of the allied forces and that of long term security of Afghanistan. If the same Afghan police personnel and soldiers, who are trained by and supposedly work hand in hand with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), turn their guns on allied troops then the men in blue have every reason to worry about their security.
The international forces are training Afghans for taking the charge of the country after withdrawal of the NATO forces by 2014. It will be a clear defeat of the international community led by the United States which attacked Afghanistan to liberate it from Taliban, if the country again goes in the hand of the Islamist fundamentalists.
This, unfortunately, is what many of the analysts fear in the view of the ground realities in Afghanistan. Even after more than a decade of war the foreign troops are unable to weaken the Taliban. They strike at will whenever they want. Their claim of having infiltrated the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which is trained by NATO, is not baseless. These very infiltrators are believed to be the inside attackers. Taliban have taken responsibility for many of the "green on blue" attacks.
Afghan and NATO officials, however, say that about 75 per cent of the attacks are not connected to the Taliban and are mostly triggered by misunderstandings and cultural differences among the Afghans and their Western allies.
Factors Leading To Insider Attacks
In fact there are multiple reasons behind increase in inside attacks targeting especially the US troops. After withdrawing the 33,000 troops ordered into the fight as part of a military surge three years ago the US has 68,000 forces on the ground in Afghanistan.
One of the factors that might be urging the Afghan security forces to go against the alien troops is said to be personal grievances. Some of them might have lost their dearest and nearest ones into NATO strikes. In their views the foreign troops are murderers of their kith and kin.
Participating in a TV debate over insider attacks Brigadier General Gunter Katz, NATO forces spokesperson, said, “The main cause for those incidents were personal grievances. Knowing this, we still have confidence in our Afghan partners, the troops out there are still willing to work with them, they have the trust that we all are working together to achieve the same objective.”
There are also the reports that the western troops do not treat the Afghan security forces the way they expect. In a conversation with a member of the ANSF in the southern province of Kandahar, Wazhma Frogh, executive director of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security, says the soldier told her: “We didn’t have water to drink or food to eat and we were fighting on the front lines. The American forces behind us, who weren’t on the front lines, would have the best food and bottles of water in front of them.”
Besides, like a majority of the Afghan society, many inside the security forces are unhappy with the current state of affairs in the country. It has been twelve years since Taliban were ousted. Still there is widespread anarchy in the country. Civilians are killed both in militant and NATO strikes. Out of frustration the Afghan security forces may pull the trigger against the western troops whom many of them hold responsible for the current state of affairs in the country.
Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analyst Network, told that the expectations of soldiers and average citizens may have been too high but general frustration that the past decade “didn’t bring peace ... didn’t bring stability” to the country, permeates across the ANSF ranks.
Barring Taliban, a large section of the Afghans holds foreign troops responsible for anarchy in Afghanistan.
“The claim ... [that] each of these events is an isolated incident ... simply doesn't fly .... It may be that everyone of those attackers had some personal grievance [but] that doesn't explain the trends. It doesn't take into account the fact that beyond the Taliban, there is massive opposition throughout Afghanistan to the presence of foreign forces occupying their country,” said Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of Ending the US war in Afghanistan: A primer.
The feeling of being occupied is common in Afghans. Talking to Al Jazeera news channel Omaid Sharifi, a transition coordination consultant, said that regardless of who is actually responsible for Afghanistan's problems, there is "a lot of propaganda" by the Taliban and government opponents to "paint a negative image of this government and international forces". Though the international community claims that it is there to establish peace in Afghanistan a major section of Afghans see them as mere occupiers. In fact, the night-time raids and drone attacks, of which civilians have to bear the brunt, have lent credential to their perception.
Abul Rahim, a shopkeeper in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, says that night-time raids into Afghan houses by foreign forces are one cause of local resentment. “We are traditional...Maintaining safety and authority over our own households is everything for us.” Rahim says such “insults” against the local population leave a lasting mark on the psyche of Afghan troops.
According to Iqbal Hussain Gajri, a university student in Kabul, the NATO and US soldiers “have created the opportunity for these green-on- blue incidents". “They did many things insulting our religious beliefs, like burning the Quran.” The incident of burning the Qur’an at the Bagram airbase had led not only to a series of angry protests, but also to one of the year’s first insider attacks when two US advisers were shot dead by an Afghan “ believed ” to have been a police employee, in a heavily guarded area of the Ministry of Interior, only accessible through a numerical combination.
The members of Afghan security forces come out of these common Afghans who are not necessarily Taliban sympathisers but do see the western forces as occupiers and insensitive to their religious sentiments.
However, the big reason behind increase in insider attacks may be successful infiltration of Taliban in the rank of ANSF. This possibility cannot be denied. It is hard to detect the loyalty of any aspirant while recruiting as the Afghans are same in appearance and Taliban are but common Afghans. According to the reports, ANSF has increased recruitment rates by more than 60,000 in 2012. Taliban can take advantage of the situation and infiltrate in the ANSF.
Some days back Afghanistan's defence ministry issued a statement saying that it had arrested or sacked hundreds of Afghan soldiers for suspected links to the Taliban or other anti-state fighters.
However, Aimal Faizi, the spokesman of Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that these killings were the result of “infiltration by foreign spy agencies into Afghan security forces”.
Reaction of the Coalition Forces
The international community is taking the new trend of rogue Afghan soldiers and police turning their guns on the foreign troops very seriously.
According to the reports, the American Forces Press Service, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said the Afghan government needs to take the problem as seriously as do US commanders and officials.
"We're all seized with (the) problem," Dempsey was quoted as saying. "You can't whitewash it. We can't convince ourselves that we just have to work harder to get through it. Something has to change."
According to Mr. Dempsey, the current situation is worrisome for both the foreign troops and the Afghan security forces. "But we've got to make sure our Afghan counterparts are as seized about it as we are...We have to get on top of this. It is a very serious threat to the campaign."
United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said that he views rogue Afghan troops and police turning their guns on allied forces attacks as the "last gasp" of a Taliban insurgency that has not been able to regain lost ground.
Afghans To Be Left On Mercy Of Taliban?
The insider attackers target mainly US soldiers. These attacks have come at a time when the NATO-led forces are preparing to leave and hand over security responsibility to the Afghan army and police, with the withdrawal process due to be completed by 2014.
NATO troops have been in the country since the US-led invasion in October 2001. By 2003 the US secretary of defence claimed that "major combat" had ended. But a decade later the number of the NATO-led force had risen to 150,000 with no significant let up in the level of violence.
By 2014, however, they will be leaving Afghanistan. The question remains how they will be successful in establishing peace within the remaining two years or so while they could not do this in ten years? Will the Afghans who had supported the coalition forces be left on the mercy of Taliban? If ANSF has been infiltrated by Taliban, will the insurgents dominate Afghanistan security establishment after NATO turns the security operations over to Afghan forces?