Green on Blue – Insider Attacks
Sep 15, 2012

Are Insider Attacks in Afghanistan a Murderous “Game Changer”?

The training missions in Afghanistan have enabled a new enemy tactic to emerge as combat troops dutifully withdraw.

During a police graduation ceremony in Afghanistan in August 2012, a newly sworn-in local officer was handed his AK-47 assault rifle. Moments later, he began firing – killing two American trainers. In the same month, three U.S. Marine Corps personnel were shot dead by an Afghan police commander and some of his men who had invited the American special operations soldiers to join them for a meal and to discuss security.

On September 15th, two members of Britain’s Yorkshire Regiment were on duty at a checkpoint in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province when they heard an Afghan policeman – or so they thought when they saw his uniform – calling for help. He said he was injured. As the 29- and 18-year-old infantrymen went to assist the man, he opened fire, killing them both.

So far this year, 55 NATO “trainers” in Afghanistan have been killed in “insider” or “green-on-blue” attacks (approximately half of them Americans), and the number of wounded is almost double that.

To date, thankfully, none of some 2700 Canadian Forces members deployed in the 2012 NATO Training Mission (some of whom are deployed for a year rather than 6-7 months), nor any of the more than 200 Canadian Police officers involved in training Police in Afghanistan since 2003, have been harmed by Afghans. However, after the deaths of the British soldiers, Defence Minister Peter MacKay admitted to reporters: “We’re not naïve. We can’t eliminate risk altogether. This is a highly volatile part of the world.”

Training Halted, Trust Eroded
Following a rise in insider attacks this summer, NATO ordered a reduction in operations with Afghan forces, but said the change would be temporary and would not derail the full handover of security by 2014.

U.S. Colonel Tom Collins, a senior spokesman for the military alliance, described the order as “a temporary and prudent response” following the insider assaults and amid the mounting anger across the Muslim world due to a video that mocked Islam’s prophet. Collins explained that the scaling back would apply to all front-line missions involving units smaller than an 800-strong battalion and would remain in place “until the threat level returns to a tolerable level.”

Three weeks later, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen publicly acknowledged that the violence had eroded trust between foreign troops and their Afghan counterparts. “No doubt, these insider attacks have undermined trust and confidence,” he commented. “We sent trainers to Afghanistan to help the Afghan security forces and then Afghan soldiers or policemen turned their weapons against the trainers. People cannot understand that, including our trainers.”

“Mad as Hell”
On the last day of September 2012, U.S. General John Allen, the senior ISAF commander in Afghanistan, told CBS 60 Minutes that he was “mad as hell” about the insider attacks and “we are willing to ­sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we are not willing to be murdered for it.” A related Voice of America (VOA) report stated that just as “homemade bombs had become the signature weapon of the Iraq war,” General Allen believes that the new signature in Afghanistan is going to be the insider attack.
As if backing up that statement, the VOA also reported that “a Taliban leader told CBS the insider attacks are part of the militant group’s new military strategy. He said the Taliban has its people planted in the Afghan police and the army.” Because the extent of the infiltration is unknown, the head of the Afghan Army, LGen Sher Mohammad Karimi, has ordered that 150,000 Afghan soldiers – three quarters of the force – be re-investigated for security vetting and recorded using biometric technologies. Reportedly, hundreds of soldiers who have shown signs of radicalization, including travel to and from Pakistan where insurgent fighters have trained and received support, have been discharged.

But has it done much good? According to The Long War Journal, insider attacks accounted for nearly 16% of Coalition casualties so far this year. In 2011, green-on-blue attacks were 6% of casualties; 2% in 2010 and in 2009; and less than 1% in 2008. Click on FrontLine’s interactive edition for links to a complete timeline of green-on-blue attacks going back to 2008.

Watching Soldiers’ Backs
In August 2012, British LGen Adrian Bradshaw told The Telegraph newspaper: “A small amount [of the insider attacks] can be directly attributed to insurgent infiltration or influence. Of course we are very alive to that threat. When you look at it from the insurgent’s point of view, why wouldn’t they try and attack us any way they can?” The deputy commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan added: “We have security measures in place now to watch our backs very carefully in a way which is designed not to interfere with the very close working relationship with the Afghans.”

Regarding Canada’s trainers in Afghanistan, FrontLine asked DND about protection for CF against insider attacks, if some soldiers have been assigned as armed guards, and if other NATO troops or vetted Afghan security personnel have been used in a guarding capacity. CJOC Public Affairs responded via email:

“The Canadian Forces continues, as we always have, to take the necessary force protection measures to protect our personnel on all our missions. All Coalition Forces personnel in Afghanistan, including Canadian Forces members, maintain a heightened state of alert and adopt appropriate Force Protection measures as required. The Coalition and Canadian Forces constantly monitor and when required implement enhanced force protection measures to counter all risks including those posed by insider threats.

“In order to maintain operational security and to protect personnel, ISAF doesn’t provide specifics of Force Protection measures. However, there are ISAF-mandated Force Protection measures which enhance local security practices for Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces personnel working together in Afghanistan.”

Haqqani Network Involvement?
The Haqqani network, a group of insurgents aligned with the Taliban, operates on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to fight against coalition forces.

In July 2011, Colonel Christopher Toner, who was commanding the U.S. ­military brigade in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, told the Washington Post: “Haqqani is the most resilient enemy network out there. They want power, wealth, money and a seat at the table when this thing is over.”

A few months later, Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, revealed to journalists that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had created the Haqqani network and trained its members during the 1980s when Soviet military forces occupied Afghanistan.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported in early October 2012 that U.S. officials believe the Haqqani insurgent ­network has been “a driving force behind a significant number of the ‘insider’ attacks by Afghan forces.” Haqqani involvement “would add a new dimension to that group’s insurgent activity, which has been marked largely by spectacular attacks against targets inside Kabul.”

According to the report, “the pattern of shootings and the movements and backgrounds of some of the shooters – including travel into Pakistan shortly before the shootings – point to a likely connection to the group.” Also, “internal military analyses … indicate that a number of shooters were recruited into the Afghan army or police forces from Pashtun areas in eastern Afghanistan – including the provinces of Paktika, Paktia and Khost – where the Haqqanis wield great influence.”

Four more Americans have been killed since General Allen’s 60 Minutes interview, where he predicted that the insider attacks will likely continue.

For NATO countries like the United States, Britain and Canada – the training mission in “highly volatile” Afghanistan cannot end soon enough. The creeping death toll highlights the futility facing the coalition as it attempts to extricate itself from Afghanistan without leaving it in shambles. Again.
Blair Watson, a contributing editor at FrontLine, is based in British Columbia.   
© FrontLine Defence 2012