American troops in Afghanistan face an increased threat from “insider” attacks in which the Afghan forces they are there to help and train are turning their guns on their American partners, raising serious questions about the viability of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
The attacks, which have killed 40 U.S. and NATO troops so far this year, are also referred to as “green-on-blue attacks,” because the military refers to local forces as “green” and allied forces as “blue.”*
Who are the Afghan security forces? While the Afghan Army leaders are professional and committed to working with their American counterparts, the recruits are mostly rural, illiterate men who can become disgruntled by cultural differences with their American trainers or susceptible to insurgent bribes or intimidation. U.S. military officials attribute only about 10 percent of the insider attacks to Taliban infiltration, despite Taliban claims of responsibility for most of the attacks.
There are about 350,000 Afghan security forces, including the police and army. As of October 1, there will be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is centered on being able to train the Afghan forces so they can eventually face down the insurgent threat on their own. If the number of insider attacks does not abate, it will be increasingly difficult to justify a large-scale U.S. troop presence in the nation.
Heritage’s Peter Brookes writes in the New York Post this morning:
Despite efforts by Coalition forces and the Afghan government to combat the violence through better screening, vetting, monitoring and counterintelligence, this isn’t going to be an easy problem to fix.
The Taliban, the Haqqanis and al Qaeda will continue to look for willing recruits to do their dirty work, developing “penetrations” of the Afghan army and police force to turn on their mentors and trainers.
The psychological effects of trainees turning their weapons on their trainers is devastating to American troops and the 40 coalition partners in the country. President Obama needs to engage on this issue and seek to raise confidence in his overall Afghanistan strategy. The increase in insider attacks threatens the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials must work closely with their Afghan counterparts to stop the attacks. President Obama has largely avoided talking about the Afghan war and has focused mainly on troop withdrawal schedules, rather than inspiring confidence in U.S. strategy and showing commitment to U.S. goals in the region.
While President Obama has been drawing down U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he has attempted to negotiate with the Taliban—despite the fact that the Taliban has renounced neither terrorism nor its support for al-Qaeda. If the Taliban is able to regain influence in Afghanistan without breaking ties with international terrorism, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups could re-establish a haven there.
Heritage’s Lisa Curtis reminds us that the military gains made against the Taliban over the past two years are “still fragile.” “It would be unwise for the U.S. to make major concessions before the Taliban has renounced international terrorism and demonstrated willingness to compromise politically,” Curtis has written.
Just a few months ago, the Taliban criticized the Afghan government for moving forward with a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the U.S., saying America’s goal was to prevent the institution of a true Islamic government and to establish an army hostile to Islam that protects Western interests in the region.
Instead of focusing so much energy and attention on trying to negotiate with the Taliban, the U.S. should be empowering and organizing anti-Taliban elements into a cohesive political force. That includes encouraging Pakistan to end its support for the Taliban—and to stop providing safe haven to any terrorist networks.
Curtis says the U.S. can still achieve its goals in Afghanistan as long as it does not rush troop withdrawals:
President Obama’s continued focus on troop withdrawals gives the impression that the U.S. is rushing for the exits, which is creating fear and uncertainty among the Afghans and causing President Karzai to become a less reliable partner. The scope and pace of withdrawals over the next two years should be determined by U.S. military commanders on the ground, not by U.S. electoral politics.
We cannot forget that the Afghanistan mission is to prevent the country from becoming the terrorist training ground it was before 9/11. While troops are focused on establishing security for average Afghans and fostering a democratic society there, the outcome directly affects the U.S. homeland.
*An earlier version incorrectly linked the colors to uniforms.