Cul­ture clash, bribes prod Afghans to turn on NATO

‘Green on blue’ killings a per­plex­ing prob­lem

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The post- Ko­ran- burn­ing slay­ings in Afghanistan have put fo­cus on one of the most press­ing ques­tions fac­ing U.S. com­man­ders: Why do Afghan troops sud­denly turn their weapons on NATO per­son­nel and kill them?

Six Army sol­diers alone were killed by in­sid­ers — two in the In­te­rior Min­istry and four at bases in south­ern and east­ern Afghanistan — af­ter re­ports sur­faced Feb. 20 that U.S. per­son­nel burned Ko­rans at the main base in Ba­gram.

There is not an of­fi­cial re­port on the killings. Spec­u­la­tion im­me­di­ately cen­tered on the Tal­iban or the Haqqani Net­work ac­ti­vat­ing agents in­side the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Force (ANSF) to com­mit mur­der.

But an­a­lysts, sta­tis­tics and at least one study

sug­gest that the ex­pla­na­tion is not so sim­ple.

In an im­pov­er­ished, deeply Is­lamic na­tion at war for decades, amid a stark mix of Western and old-school Mus­lim val­ues, dis­putes are bound to arise.

“The Tal­iban have been pretty con­sis­tent in mes­sag­ing, call­ing for the Afghan se­cu­rity force, po­lice and army to turn on their NATO coun­ter­parts,” said Paraag Shukla, a for­mer Pen­tagon in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer who is an an­a­lyst at the In­sti­tute for the Study of War.

“But the ef­fect of some of this con­sis­tent mes­sag­ing is re­ally very, very dif­fi­cult to mea­sure be­cause we don’t know the mo­tives for these killings of [NATO] per­son­nel. There’s not re­ally a con­sis­tent pat­tern. They are sort of all over the map.”

‘Green on blue’

Pen­tagon sta­tis­tics pro­vided to The Washington Times paint a com­plex picture.

Be­fore the Ko­ran burn­ing, there were 42 re­ported in­ci­dents of “green on blue,” as the Afghan troop be­trayal is called, from 2007 to Fe­bru­ary of this year.

But the U.S. could con­firm only four, or 9 per­cent, as the work of in­sur­gent plants who sneaked through the U.s.-afghan screen­ing process.

An­other four cases are clas­si­fied as “co-op­tion” — that is, an Afghan is threat­ened or bribed.

The ma­jor­ity, 26 in­ci­dents, stemmed from “per­sonal mat­ters” such as dis­putes among sol­diers or griev­ances against the com­mand.

The Pen­tagon has yet to come up with a sure­fire way to weed out mal­con­tents be­fore they re­sort to vi­o­lence.

“Per­sonal is­sues, combat stress and other fac­tors, some of which we don’t fully un­der­stand in ev­ery in­di­vid­ual case, of­ten un­der­lie these at­tacks,” David Sed­ney, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense for Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Cen­tral Asia, told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee last month.

“Combat stress that leads to use of vi­o­lence by forces against their col­leagues and their part­ners is some­thing that is an un­for­tu­nate char­ac­ter­is­tic of war ev­ery­where, and some­thing that we must do ev­ery­thing we can to pre­vent in Afghanistan and else­where.”

Last year, Jef­frey Bordin, a po­lit­i­cal and be­hav­ioral sci­en­tist, pub­lished a field study in Afghanistan for the U.S. Army. He con­ducted 68 fo­cus groups made up of 613 Afghans to de­ter­mine the rea­sons for the re­peated oc­cur­rences of “per­sonal clashes.”

He found deep mis­trust among Amer­i­cans and Afghans, and he warned of a “rapidly grow­ing sys­temic threat.”

Seeds of dis­con­tent

“ANSF mem­bers iden­ti­fied nu­mer­ous so­cial, cul­tural and op­er­a­tional griev­ances they have with U.S. sol­diers,” the study said.

The list of griev­ances: U.S. con­voys run­ning traf­fic signs, in­dis­crim­i­nate fire that killed civil­ians, use of flawed in­tel­li­gence sources, vi­o­la­tions of fe­male privacy dur­ing searches, public uri­na­tion and the un­nec­es­sary shoot­ing of an­i­mals.

“They found many U.S. sol­diers to be ex­tremely ar­ro­gant, bul­ly­ing, un­will­ing to lis­ten to their ad­vice and were of­ten seen as lack­ing con­cern for civil­ian and ANSF safety dur­ing combat,” Mr. Bordin found.

U.S. sol­diers had their own list of com­plaints about their Afghan com­rades.

The study said: “They re­ported per­va­sive il­licit drug use, mas­sive thiev­ery, per­sonal in­sta­bil­ity, dis­hon­esty, no in­tegrity, in­com­pe­tence, un­safe weapons han­dling, cor­rupt of­fi­cers ... covert al­liances/in­for­mal treaties with in­sur­gents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, lazi­ness, re­pul­sive hy­giene and the tor­ture of dogs.”

Said John Pike, who di­rects Glob­alse­cu­ “I think the prob­lem is that they un­der­stand us all too well, and that there is an un­bridge­able cul­tural chasm. Amer­i­cans are con­temp­tu­ous of the Afghans’ prim­i­tive prac­tices and be­liefs, and the Afghans are con­temp­tu­ous of the Amer­i­cans’ in­fi­del ways.”

The largest num­ber of green on blue at­tacks have been in the past two years. Vol­ume may ex­plain the spike. Dur­ing that time, the gov­ern­ment and NATO greatly ex­panded the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Force to reach a goal of 352,000 by year’s end.

Adding tens of thou­sands of troops put great pres­sure on a screen­ing process that re­lies sig­nif­i­cantly on the word of vil­lage el­ders to vouch for a per­son’s char­ac­ter.

“When you have a rapidly grow­ing force like that, it be­comes in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to mon­i­tor ev­ery­one,” Mr. Shukla said.

‘A think­ing en­emy’

A spe­cial-op­er­a­tions sol­dier who served in Afghanistan said low pay makes lo­cals sus­cep­ti­ble to bribes.

“We are grow­ing an enor­mous army in Afghanistan,” said the of­fi­cer. “That means re­cruits aren’t ex­ten­sively vet­ted, and their limited pay makes them ex­tremely sus­cep­ti­ble to in­duce­ment by the en­emy to kill NATO forces ei­ther from bribes or threats to their fam­i­lies.

“This isn’t about the Afghan na­tional army be­ing in­fil­trated. This is about the sus­cep­ti­bil­ity of its forces to in­duce­ments.”

In 2009 con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony, U.S. com­man­ders said a Tal­iban sol­dier earns about $300 a month, more than twice the salary for an Afghan sol­dier whose pay has since been in­creased to stay com­pet­i­tive with that of the en­emy.

An­other fac­tor, the spe­cial-op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer said, is that the Afghan army is viewed sus­pi­ciously by the ma­jor­ity Pash­tuns in the south. The army is now eth­ni­cally di­verse and in­cludes mem­bers of the old North­ern Al­liance who fought the Pash­tun Tal­iban in the 1990s.

“The Tal­iban can tar­get any eth­nic­ity in the ranks, but the Pash­tun would gen­er­ally be eas­ier,” the of­fi­cer said.

The prob­lem is not just screen­ing re­cruits. It also is keep­ing an eye on po­lice and sol­diers to de­tect be­hav­ior that might tip off a green on blue at­tack.

A case study is the killing of two U.S. sol­diers last March at For­ward Op­er­at­ing Base Fron­tenac.

The Afghan at­tacker, a se­cu­rity guard, was fired in 2010 for mak­ing state­ments about killing Amer­i­cans. His em­ployer, Tun­dra Se­cu­rity, rec­om­mended that he not be re­hired. But the in­for­ma­tion was not in­serted into his file and the at­tacker was re­hired the next year — by the same firm.

As a re­sult, base com­man­ders must screen all Afghan na­tion­als who come on and off the base on at least a weekly ba­sis. U.S. units as­sign “guardian an­gels” to keep watch over Afghans dur­ing mis­sions. The gov­ern­ment also is set­ting up a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence pro­gram to try to weed out dis­loyal troops.

“So this is a think­ing en­emy that we’re deal­ing with here, a cun­ning en­emy who wants to hurt us. And ev­ery now and then the en­emy’s go­ing to have some suc­cess,” Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, of the Pen­tagon’s Joint Staff, told Congress last month.

“So what we’re try­ing to do is elim­i­nate as much as pos­si­ble, re­duce the pos­si­bil­ity that that can hap­pen, but we can’t elim­i­nate it com­pletely.”


An Air Force carry team moves a trans­fer case con­tain­ing the re­mains of Lt. Col. John D. Loftis on Feb. 27 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of De­fense, Loftis, 44, of Paducah, Ky., died Feb. 25 from wounds suf­fered dur­ing an at­tack at the Afghan In­te­rior Min­istry in Kabul.

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