Afghanistan: Are green on blue attacks a serious problem?

Admiral James Stavridis, Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe says: Recent attacks conducted from within the Nato-Afghan security partnership are certainly troubling. That is why we are taking concrete action to ensure we reduce the potential for these incidents in the future.

Questions:

1. How serious are these attacks from your point? Do they represent some coherent tactics of the insurgents or would you say they are more or less random?

2. How to cope with this problem in your opinion?

Answers:

Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

1. They are unfortunately becoming a bit of an epidemic, even if they are not always inspired or orchestrated by insurgents. It is a significant problem.

2. Lots of things are already being done but unfortunately it’s hard to fix all the problems and find all the potential threats now. One way to proceed is to ensure that accountable elders vouch for all new recruits. Another is to ensure that the families of recruits don’t live in Pakistan, where insurgent sanctuaries are strongest. A third is to use better vetting procedures (like lie detector tests). A fourth is to use more Afghan intelligence within the armed forces to try to find problematic cases before they strike. A fifth is to keep track of the emotional history of soldiers and police and deal firmly with initial warning signs. A sixth may be new tactical procedures that limit the ability of a rogue element to fire off lots of shots quickly in normal working conditions.

Stephen Tankel, Assistant Professor, American University, Non-resident scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

1. In many cases, an incident of green on blue violence is driven by motivations or circumstances unique to that incident. But broadly speaking, the trend seems to point more toward problems in the relationship between coalition and Afghan forces than Taliban infiltration. That said, the Taliban is certainly seeking to capitalize on this and in some instances to encourage infiltration or, at the least, attacks by those already enlisted in the Afghan forces.

2. It would be easier to solve or at least cope with the problem if this were simply a case of Taliban infiltration because then the answer would be better counter-intelligence. Ideally, trainers would have extensive regional knowledge and experience training foreign troops. Unfortunately, given the circumstances and the heavy investment placed on training a lot of Afghan troops fast, the US will need to mitigate the problem while also accepting that it’s unlikely to go away.

Charly Salonius-Pasternak, Researcher, The Global Security research programme, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

1. Militarily they can become significant – especially if ISAF forces become ever more reluctant to work with ANSF. From what I understand, about a quarter are somehow related to the insurgency. The rest occur for a range of reasons. As was noted by an ISAF representative recently, it’s hard to get at the motivations directly, since the perpetrator is often killed in the counter-fire. I don’t think there is a master plan, other than to disrupt ANSF training and reduce trust between ANSF and ISAF forces – so they may be tactically random but not in the larger picture. Though you wouldn’t get ISAF officials to admit it, I suspect the different ISAF participant countries’ “military cultures” can play a role here – how respected do the local ANSF feel by all the different ISAF forces?

2. Very hard. I imagine one component (the less than 25% which are directly insurgent related) is better screening of ANSF members. Another way to approach it is to see what the most common grievances seem to be, and start addressing them. Is it not getting paid on time? Is it being in combat for too long? Is it incompatibility of some ISAF forces with what partnering and mentoring means? I presume ISAF is already asking these questions, but sadly, it is possible to reduce the attacks but not completely get rid of them.

David Isby, Political and defense analyst, Author of books and articles on military and security

1. The recent surge in “green on blue” violence in Afghanistan represents, I believe, both a sophisticated top-down operational approach by a politically aware insurgent leadership and a bottom-up upswelling of frustration and resentment at the international security presence, encouraged by both copy-cat motivations and traditional Pashtun ideas of badal and other legitimated forms of personal violence.  So the answer is “both”, but the two feed into each other in an especially destructive way.

2. To the insurgent leadership, “green on blue” apparently is a direct, targeted response to the UAV and special operations attacks that have decimated their numbers in recent years without the cost in collateral damage to Afghans associated with the suicide bomber.   The US insistence that all ANSF units should be comprised of a percentage of ethnic Pushtuns commensurate with their overall presence in the Afghan population – something pre-1973 Afghan security forces never achieved – means there was an incentive to bring in individuals that might otherwise have been excluded from service and so be in no position to launch these attacks.

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