Daily Archives: August 22, 2012

Foreign Soldiers who Die in Afghanistan: the insider attacks

At the height of this dusty summer, American troops are dying at unprecedented rates at the hands of their Afghan allies. And both sides are struggling to explain why, even as they search for ways to stem what are known in military parlance as “insider” attacks.  This month, at least 10 U.S. troops — including a U.S. service member shot Sunday and five members of America’s elite special-operations forces slain earlier — have been killed by Afghan police, soldiers or civilian workers at military installations. As of Sunday, that accounted for a stunning 32% of the 31 American military fatalities in Afghanistan reported thus far in August by the monitoring website icasualties.org.  [I]nsider shootings have wider-ranging repercussions. They have provided a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban, and could threaten a linchpin of the Western exit strategy: training Afghan security forces in preparation for handing over most fighting duties to them by 2014.

The military says only a very small share of insider attacks is carried out by Taliban “sleepers” in the police or army. But that opens the way to perhaps an even more alarming conclusion: that the majority of the assailants are undertaking what are in effect spontaneous, self-assigned suicide missions, because many insider shooters are killed on the spot in return fire.

The military says it is working to address the threat. Changes in recent months have included the posting of armed Western troops — so-called guardian angels — to watch over others in mess halls, sleeping tents and gyms. Last week, the American commander of the NATO force, Gen. John Allen, ordered that NATO troops across Afghanistan keep a loaded magazine in their weapons, even when on base.  This year, an Army captain described an informal buddy system at his base of troops signaling each other to keep a close watch on armed Afghans nearby, especially if one of their comrades was diverted by some task.  “‘Shona-ba-shona,’ OK,” the captain said, invoking the “shoulder-to-shoulder” slogan of the NATO force and its Afghan partners. “But also: ‘Eyes on, all times.'”…..

How to guard against such attacks is the subject of considerable debate in military leadership circles, because overtly heavy-handed measures can send a signal to the Afghans that they are not trusted, which can be taken as an insult. And in traditional Afghan culture, perceived insult can swiftly lead to exactly the sort of violence the attacks represent…The phenomenon is so pervasive that the killings have their own evolving nomenclature. Previously, the military called them green-on-blue attacks, a color-coded reference to Afghan and Western forces. Now the preferred, more encompassing term is “insider threat,” stemming from the fact that assailants have included not only uniformed police and soldiers, but also civilian members of the Afghan security apparatus, or simply someone with access to a coalition base, even in a low-level capacity.

The Taliban movement has noted the rising number of insider shootings with ill-concealed delight, boasting of having infiltrated all branches of the Afghan security forces. In the past, the Taliban leadership claimed responsibility for virtually every such attack, but lately the group’s publicity machine often cites individual initiative by those without links to the insurgency.  “Our fighters are in the ranks of the police, army and intelligence service, but there are also some who carry out attacks on foreign troops only because they are Afghans and Muslims and act on their religious obligation to protect their country from invading forces,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group. “It is an indication of utter hatred against the foreigners.”…….

Some analysts believe part of the problem is the sheer longevity of the war, now in its 11th year. In the conflict’s early stages, such attacks were an extreme rarity.  “I wouldn’t say it’s normal, but I think it’s understandable in a war situation which is lasting for more than a decade,” said Fabrizio Foshini of the Afghan Analysts Network. “The conflict has been becoming worse, nastier — and the presence of foreign troops doesn’t seem in the eyes of many Afghans to have brought positive changes.”

Laura King, Afghanistan ‘insider’ attacks pose threat to West’s exit strategy, LA Times, August 20, 2012

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