Thursday, 18 October 2012

Insider attacks in Afghanistan are more complex than simple betrayal

A suicide attack on Oct.13 killed two Americans and four Afghan Intelligence agency colleagues.

The attacker detonated his explosive vest as furniture was being delivered to a new intelligence office in Maruf district.

Increasing the bomber’s effectiveness, his explosives were worn underneath an Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) uniform, the attire of the fledgling intelligence agency in Afghanistan. The attack was the first instance this year of an Afghan intelligence employee, perhaps a guard, killing a member of the international coalition, Maj. Martin Crighton.

Although the target in this strike appears to have been the Afghan intelligence officers according to an Afghan official, perhaps more worryingly for on-going stability the official added that it was ‘and attack on the NDS by the NDS’.

This year has seen many similar insider attacks throughout Afghanistan. Removing the injuries caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) an enormous 33 percent of casualties in Afghanistan are the result of intentional actions committed by Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The regularity of insider attacks in Afghanistan has increased over the years. There were six incidents in 2010, 15 in 2011 and 64 so far this year.

Insider attacks in Afghanistan have damaged trust between foreign troops and Afghan forces, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Oct. 1. Rasmussen added that NATO will continue to take preventative measures to avoid such attacks.

These so-called ‘green on blue’ attacks by Afghan military or security force members are killing one in three international troops. Sept. 30 marked the 2000th U.S. serviceman killed in Afghanistan; the soldier was killed during an Afghan insider attack on his patrol. Of these attacks, NATO estimates 25 percent are conducted by the Taliban insurgency while the rest are due to cultural misunderstandings and arguments.

Manuals issued to fresh Afghan troops try to temper the potential for cultural faux-pas and missteps. Some tell the recruit not to be offended if, for instance, an ISAF soldier blows his nose in front of them. Tribal and cultural feuds tend to be solved by guns rather than by rational discussion in Afghanistan.

Other common problems arise when training programs include physical pushing or other types of verbal motivation that offend Afghan recruits. The Afghan soldier views such behaviour as a personal affront to their masculinity or status and gun violence is often a way to right any perceived wrongs. Afghan security forces can often also be found intoxicated with local opiate substances even while on operations. Intoxication can lead to mistakes or miscalculations by the soldier.

An uptick in such killings could not come at a worse time for the international forces in Afghanistan. Great effort is being afforded to training the Afghan military and police force to take over responsibility of security. Both the ISAF and U.S. troops have just over two final years before the withdrawal deadline of late 2014 calls them home.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman confirmed Cabinet has agreed the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) will be withdrawn from Bamyan province in Afghanistan by the end of April 2013.

Other members of the International Security Assistance Force will also be departing in 2013.The United Kingdom announced it will withdraw thousands of British troops from Afghanistan next year, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said Oct. 14.

The departure of both the U.K. and Kiwi troops from Afghanistan is not directly a reaction to the insider attacks throughout Afghanistan; the withdrawals are part of a structured plan for transition. However, both countries have experienced high relative casualty numbers in 2012. For the U.K. some were a result of insider killings.

Green on blue attacks are clearly reaching a level where something needs to change. Military commanders in Afghanistan understand each attack drives a wedge between local forces and international troops. To reduce the risk of insider attacks, Lt. Gen. James Terry issued an order Sept.16 to terminate routine operations with Afghan forces. Any joint operations will require the approval of a regional commander.

This decision was made following an unusually successful attack by insurgents on the NATO military base Camp Bastion on Sept.14, which seems to have benefited from insider assistance. The attack on Sept. 14 in Helmand province, demonstrated the insurgent’s strength in the area even after the U.S.-led surge has largely completed.

The insider attacks have more to do with inter-tribal warring than Islamism and date back well beyond even the colonial British attempts to subdue Afghanistan. Afghans are an extremely tribal people. Dealing with conflict in a culture where violence is neither abstract nor strategic and is intensely personal and familial sheds some light on why insider attacks are so common.

The concept of a nation state appears to mean little to those living in the provinces outside the Afghan capital Kabul. Tribes are more important to an Afghan individual especially when invading armies and governments consistently collapse when attempting to amalgamate the country.

It appears that after more than ten years of work, tribes and democracy are all but incompatible. An international criminal element must be considered as well. Afghanistan stokes a thriving black market of opium and black-tar Heroin which brings millions of dollars into the local economy. As is being displayed in truly grotesque fashion in Mexico and Columbia, a drug trade can encourage some of the nastiest and violent aspects of humanity.

While the ISAF forces attempt to maintain security and nurture a working government, radical Islamism, a violent drug trade, and centuries-old tribal feuds unleash terrible consequences on the Afghan populace and inevitably the ISAF troops themselves.

Insider attacks in Afghanistan have targeted all levels of the security force, from simple Afghan interpreters to ranking uniformed international military personnel. This indicates the killings may have something to do with the recruit selection process.

When Lt. Gen. James Terry announced the termination of joint patrols earlier last month, he indicated a wish to re-examine the backgrounds of all Afghan security personnel to check for potential security threats. While such an endeavour may be possible in many Western countries, Afghanistan simply does not have the requisite civil records to complete the task.

Initial background checks on current Afghan troops encountered the same problem. Much of the time a basic verbal testimony from a fellow villager was deemed enough to verify the candidate.

Ultimately, insider attacks in Afghanistan are not a clear case of simple ‘betrayal’. Such attacks are a complex storm of effects stemming from an international drug trade, a transnational insurgency, local militant groups leveraging radical Islam, and embedded cultural and tribal norms all wound up in a country with profound literacy and municipal underdevelopment.

Insider attacks will likely continue throughout the remaining scheduled deployment of international forces. The attacks do not necessarily indicate a failure in NATO strategy but are a phenomenon inherent in the Afghan way of life. International forces are dealing with this frightening aspect of war as best they can.

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