Afghanistan’s Insider War Against the U.S.: A Matter of No Trust

In order to protect themselves, Americans must now watch the Afghan soldiers they are training to take over the security of the country

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John Wendle for TIME

An Afghan soldier practices carrying an American soldier during a training session at Combat Outpost Garda in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2012.

Saturday marked the 2,000th U.S. military death in the war in Afghanistan. And it is the way in which the American soldier was reportedly killed – by a presumptive Afghan ally – that makes it significant. These so-called green-on-blue attacks are rarely spectacular – often carried out suddenly, by rifle. Even so, these insider attacks are proving to be the perfect weapon against coalition forces since they accomplish many of the insurgents’ goals with little planning, effort or cost.

Increasingly, coalition troops feel they cannot trust the Afghan soldiers and police with whom they live and serve. The killings drive a wedge of mistrust deeper between foreign and Afghan forces and they also cause the American public to question why Washington is helping the Afghan government and military at all. And these doubts and questions are critical because, in order for the U.S. to declare any kind of victory after the 2014 withdrawal, it has to train and mentor a viable Afghan security force that will respect human rights and prevent a much-feared civil war or Taliban takeover.

(PHOTOS: Afghanistan Now, Photographs by Yuri Kozyrev)

The mistrust and tension was visible during a recent trip to Combat Outpost Garda, in northern Wardak Province. As a U.S. patrol wound its way back over barren, brown hills and through the sunny orchards of apples that make this valley famous among Afghans, word passed back through the soldiers that an Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol would be heading out as they headed in. One soldier joked that he hoped the Afghans would not shoot the patrol as they came in.Some laughed. Soon after, an American lieutenant’s voice crackled through the leaves of the trees from the communications devices carried by all troops, telling the patrol to keep a sharp eye as they returned. Not such a joke, after all.

The actual ability of Afghan troops to help—rather than hurt—coalition partners is risible. At a recent mentoring session in Garda, for example, Afghan soldiers came huffing through the loose gravel of the camp, practicing carrying wounded U.S. soldier across their backs. With little focus placed on training and strength, most of the Afghans were not strong enough to lift an American soldier loaded with body armor, helmet and weapon. Some collapsed into the dirt, laughing. Others dropped their loads with curses. Finally, helmets askew and out of breath, the ANA soldiers reached the shooting range. Hands shaking from the exertion, they peered through their iron sights and tried – sometimes successfully – to hit targets. “Sometimes pray and spray just ain’t enough,” says a U.S. sergeant. “Some of these guys [have such bad aim they] should be armed with rocket propelled grenades.”

While the ANA trained, an American soldier called a “guardian angel” stood in the background, watching over the rest of the U.S. troops with a round in the chamber while the Americans taught. When asked what his job was, another guardian angel, standing by as an Afghan contractor repaired a roof at Forward Operating Base Shank in nearby Logar Province, said, “If he starts acting up, I’m supposed to drop him.” Afghan troops did not seem to be aware of the change or that they were in anyone’s sights.

(MORE: Can the U.S. and NATO Prevent ‘Green on Blue’ Attacks in Afghanistan?)

Just how seriously the U.S. is taking the insider attacks was demonstrated by NATO’s move in mid-September curtailing joint patrols between coalition and Afghan forces. Although Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said at a news conference late last week that, “I can now report to you that most ISAF units have returned to their normal partnered operations at all levels,” the new rules governing joint and offensive patrols – drastically reined in last week – remain in force.

The new security measures include having officers at the company and platoon level getting a two star general to sign off on a patrol; the submission of risk assessments; and patrols having to avoid checkpoints where they do not have a good relationship with the Afghans. These, however, have not halted the green on blue killings. The attack late Saturday that killed the 2,000th U.S. soldier took place in southern Wardak, at a checkpoint near an Afghan National Army base in the district of Sayedabad, according to Afghan officials, news agencies reported. NATO and the Afghan military are still investigating the incident. A NATO-contracted civilian was also killed.

Shahidullah Shahid, a provincial government spokesman, told the AP an Afghan soldier had turned his gun on Americans and started shooting. “Initial reports indicate that a misunderstanding happened between Afghan army soldiers and American soldiers,” he said. (On Monday, a Taliban suicide bomber in Khost reportedly killed three NATO troops along with at least 10 other people, including several civilians. While the U.S. may be marking its 2,000th combat fatality since 2001, more than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed in2011 alone in violence perpetrated by combatants on both sides of the conflict.)

(PHOTOS: Fighting for Afghanistan’s Future)

Compared to 35 insider killings for all of last year, at least 52 NATO troops – about half of them American – have been killed in 36 green on blue attacks this year, accounting for 15% of all coalition casualties, AFP reported. NATO says that about 25% of the attacks are carried out by Taliban infiltrators, while the rest are caused by cultural differences and disputes between NATO troops and Afghan forces.

“The signature attack that we’re beginning to see is going to be the insider attack,” U.S. and NATO commander General John Allen told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday. “I’m mad as hell about [insider killings], to be honest with you,” said Allen. “We’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.”

MORE: Training the Afghan Military

20 comments
Hussain Saqib
Hussain Saqib

The Taliban is a phenomenon of

America’s own creation. They achieved their objective of evicting the Soviets

and turned their back on the region leaving Afghanistan in turmoil and

leadership crisis. Taliban thrived on this crisis and established their rule in

the length and breadth of the country. Americans not only forgot Afghanistan,

they also turned hostile to their facilitator, Pakistan, which holds key to

stability in Afghanistan. When they came back to fight Taliban, they engaged

Pakistan again with loud promises of a long-haul relationship and not repeating

the past blunders. Pakistanis have mercifully learned their lesson from

history. It is time that Americans also did the same. Read more at: http://passivevoices.wordpress... 

linzw11
linzw11

It is time to leave Afghanistan, but I'm afraid to see what will happen to the Afghan contractors and interpreters who have supported and worked with the US during this war. I worked with some of the most educated and compassionate Afghans who truly do want a peaceful country and some freedom for their families. I just hate to think about what is going to happen to the few that actually bought in to the work the US is doing in Afghanistan.

fearnothing
fearnothing

Afghan society is tribal and mysoginistic.  The US is just wasting valuable lives, time and money remaining.  The only meaningful contribution anyone could make there is to drop a biogift that would elminate reproduction of male babies for about 80 years.  Let the women build a society without the weight of centuries of dysfunctional male oppression.  In most of those countries, the only functional gender is female, although there are certainly female jihadists, and men who would like to step outside of their pathological definitions of masculinity. There's no US solution possible.  So, stop training police and military there, let's take all our nice guns, bombs and other weaponry home, say goodbye and good luck. 

Xander Legere
Xander Legere

 If you kill all the men, men from other nearby countries will replace them... and somehow that might actually be worse.

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

It only took Time Magazine 3 1/2 years to notice that ALL Afghans hate us and our intrusion into their lives.  Well actually when Bush was in office they reported on that constantly but ever since Lord Obama has been in office nary a word.  I guess Islamo-centric black Democrat commies get a pass in this rag.  Nice "reporting" fellas. 

Gabe Reyngold
Gabe Reyngold

My oh my arent we the pathetic racist conspiracy-loving tool we see in the "Lord Obama" eh?

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

Me a racist? I think most people on the left are actually racists because they don't believe black people should be held to the same standard as white people. If Obama were white with his lack of experience and radical views, he never would have been elected president and you know it. He is effectively the first Affirmative Action president we have ever had and it's not really working out so well.  Adding insult to injury "main stream media" outlets like Time Magazine have lost their Mission. They used to be another check and balance to government regardless of which Party was in power. The obscene bias that has been evidenced in Obama's favor and the lack of covering stories that make him look bad (which are numerous because he's the worst president we've ever had) because of the media's own liberal group think and dishonesty in "reporting" is extraordinarily destructive to our freedoms and way of life.

CivilUnrestInTheUS2012
CivilUnrestInTheUS2012

We have to be careful when responding to this sort of thing, for instance if it were a US on US troop friendly fire i don't think there would be such a strong call for blood from the offender. Accidents happen often enough, let alone when you have two different armies that speak different languages, and come from completely different cultural backrounds trying to work together. I'll admit that the problem of taliban infiltrators needs to be dealt with with the upmost prejudice, but if it is an honest to God accident all violent reaction will due is strain the thread of good faith we still have with afghan military personnel. In short, it'll just make the matter even worse, and infact more dangerous for our troops. We should take further precaution to protect ourselves when in the field, because the fact is it is a war zone. I'll admit though the "Guardian angel" thing does seem like a subtle effective way to protect ourselves some of the time.

Joseph Diamond
Joseph Diamond

This is a job for TSA!

Instead of  frisking women and children....send their asses to the front. Let them frisk guys with guns.

Joe

18235
18235

afghanistan will always be a 3rd world dump.

AmericanMuse
AmericanMuse

No sireee! Afghanistan is the Graveyard of Empires!!

g_efwong
g_efwong

It is and always will, better to take your troops home and let them fight themselves to the dark ages. If they want to come out of that dump and join the rest of humanity, then the world can help.

Maaq
Maaq

We want our boys back home.

Mary Waterton
Mary Waterton

Osama bin Laden is dead. Why are we still there?

AmericanMuse
AmericanMuse

Listen, TIME! What's hard to understand? If you invade a country, occupy its territory and kill its inhabitants, they'd sure try killing you back at every opportunity too.

Demetrius Minneapolis
Demetrius Minneapolis

Can we at least leave with our foreign aid funds? Some farmers back home may appreciate it.

starsandbars56
starsandbars56

they should start shooting the families of the turncoats,they want martyrs,we'll give them martyrs!

Selvar
Selvar

Eh. The soviets were known for dropping bombs that looked like  toys so that Afghan kids would be killed. I doubt there is any brutality the US can inflict on the afghan people that will break there will.

harrykuheim
harrykuheim

Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi's send rewards to the families.

Jacob R. Wilson
Jacob R. Wilson

So what you're saying is that the Afghans want the US to leave? Understandable. Here's an idea, how about they let the US train their soldiers and then allow the US troops to leave as planned? Wouldn't that be faster, cheaper, and better in the long run? 

The US invaded to kill OBL and his organization. Now OBL is dead and his people are scattered, we're trying to leave. You're defense of insurgents reflects a poor understanding of the conflict and a general inability to form basic plans.