The majority of so-called insider attacks by Afghan security forces against U.S. and other foreign troops are committed by insurgent infiltrators, according to Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister, Jawed Ludin.
Speaking yesterday in Washington, he said he disagreed with U.S. military commanders about one of the most sensitive issues in the two nation’s security partnership: Afghan government forces killing Americans and other allies.
Ludin disputed assertions by NATO and U.S. officials that personal grievances and cultural frictions were behind many of the attacks.
The culture clash explanation is “vastly overstated” and “ignores the fact” that Afghan and NATO forces have fought side by side for more than a decade, Ludin said.
He said the Afghan government has undertaken a “wholesale review of all the recruitments we’ve done in recent years” and has set up a joint threat-mitigation team with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, or ISAF, to “figure out what we need to do on a very urgent basis.”
ISAF says 37 attacks by Afghans working alongside international partners have claimed the lives of 51 coalition forces or contractors this year, with a spike in such incidents in August. In all of last year, 21 attacks killed 35 ISAF partners. In 2010, six insider attacks killed 20 coalition members.
ISAF says that in about half of the attacks, the attacker was killed or escaped, so the motivation for the attack is unknown. “Of the remaining 50 percent of the cases, about half of them are confirmed to be insurgent-linked or strongly suspected to be linked to the insurgency. The other 25 percent is related to misunderstandings, perceived insults or other cultural aspects,” Colonel Thomas Collins, an ISAF spokesman, said in an e-mail exchange today.
Insider attacks have been responsible for 19 percent of combat deaths of U.S. and coalition forces this year, he said.
In a Sept. 23 interview with the Department of Defense’s Pentagon Channel, U.S. Marine General John Allen, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, said it’s hard to know the precise reasons behind the attacks.
“The enemy” is seeking to prevent the defeat of the insurgency by creating distrust and barriers between coalition and Afghan forces, he said. At the same time, “the numbers of incidents have been relatively few, and the numbers of shooters who have survived have been much fewer even than the numbers. So in the analysis, it’s been a challenge for us to understand exactly the problem.”
Ludin said Afghan authorities have evidence and intelligence indicating that the vast majority of so-called green-on-blue incidents were masterminded or inspired by insurgents.
Ludin said he understands that it’s difficult for Americans to comprehend why some Afghan soldiers and police turn on their foreign allies. In reality, he said, it’s the result of an enemy “tactic that always was there: infiltration.”
Insurgents have stepped up attacks in the last six months because of frustration over losing territory and watching the dramatic expansion of Afghan army and police trained by North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners, Ludin said.
Insurgents also are lashing out, he said, in anger over the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement signed earlier this year, which allows for continued military cooperation and an enduring U.S. military presence after American and NATO combat troops are withdrawn in 2014.
The Taliban have realized that the transition doesn’t mean the U.S. will leave, he said.
Ludin was in Washington to discuss the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership, security cooperation after NATO combat forces withdraw in 2014, efforts to draw insurgents into peace talks and other issues related to the drawdown of the American fighting forces, in addition to the green-on-blue attacks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Oct. 3 with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, Ludin and other Afghan officials.
The rise in attacks against allied forces by Afghan military, police or civilians has raised questions about the U.S. and NATO’s willingness to continue training Afghans and funding the war. Some U.S. officials say they worry the attacks are symptomatic of deeper challenges threatening efforts to turn security over to Afghans as U.S. combat troops withdraw.
This April, before the surge in insider attacks, a semi- annual Defense Department analysis of stability and security in Afghanistan highlighted the incidents as having “a significant operational and strategic impact on the coalition mission.”
U.S. officials have said that some insider attacks on coalition forces have been carried out by Afghans working for the coalition by day and the Taliban by night, as some communist Viet Cong did during the Vietnam War.
Ludin said infiltration poses as great a threat to Afghan security forces as it does to foreign forces. “Many more Afghan” soldiers and police than foreigners have been killed by insurgents who’ve infiltrated their ranks, he said, though he didn’t have figures available.
ISAF has recorded 35 shootings by Afghan soldiers and police resulting in 53 deaths and 22 injuries of Afghan colleagues this year through Aug. 21, according to a U.S. military official who shared the figures today on condition of anonymity because ISAF may not have complete numbers of Afghan casualties and isn’t authorized to disclose them.
Ludin also expressed concern about the integrity of the Afghan forces. “We are not just losing people,” he said, adding that one of Afghanistan’s “most fundamental institutions is at stake.”
“Our military was once before dismantled,” he said, a reference to the 1979 Soviet invasion and the installation of a Moscow-backed government, and the current leadership won’t let that happen again.
On Aug. 23, Afghan President Hamid Karzai asserted that some of the attacks were linked to infiltration by foreign spy services that were seeking to undermine the Afghan military.
An investigation by the Afghan National Security Council purportedly intercepted documents and phone calls before concluding that neighboring Pakistan and Iran were recruiting young Afghans to enlist in security forces and kill coalition soldiers in an effort to discredit Afghan forces. U.S. officials didn’t endorse or rebut the allegations.
Ludin said that infiltration isn’t a new phenomenon, and shouldn’t be a barrier to cooperation with properly vetted Afghan forces. The first assassination attempt against Karzai, in September 2002, was committed by an insurgent who infiltrated Afghan security ranks, he said.
Ludin echoed the view of U.S. officials who have linked the rise in insider killings to the large recruitment and perhaps inadequate vetting of new Afghan security forces. The Afghan army and police have about reached their combined target size of 352,000 personnel as of Oct. 1, compared with about 285,000 in March 2011.
In response to the green-on-blue attacks, coalition authorities last month suspended training for new Afghan recruits working with U.S. Special Operations forces and temporarily halted joint patrols and small-unit ground operations with Afghan forces unless approved by high-ranking ISAF commanders. A number of other measures were taken, including orders for ISAF troops to carry loaded weapons at all times and to review the vetting of about three-quarters of the 195,000-person Afghan army.
Joint patrols and training are starting to resume after both sides were given some breathing room, according to a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the issue.
In comments to reporters at the Pentagon via satellite Oct. 3, British Army Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, the deputy ISAF commander, said coalition and Afghan forces are uniting in an effort to crack down on insider attacks.
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