Afghanistan's
Image Credit: isafmedia (flickr)

Afghanistan's "Green on Blue" Nightmare

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With just over two years to go before the completion of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, insider attacks on U.S. and coalition troops have risen to an all-time high. So far in 2012, 37 separate attacks by Afghan soldiers and police have left 53 troops dead in so-called “green on blue” incidents- those where coalition forces are attacked by a member of the Afghan security forces- including two this weekend. The pace of green-on-blue attacks has accelerated sharply: between 2007 and 2009, just 14 coalition troops fell victim to insider attacks, but since 2010, according to a tally by The Guardian, 106 coalition troops were killed in 63 attacks.

Another study, this one by the New America Foundation, identified 116 killed and 88 wounded in green-on-blue attacks since 2003. Meanwhile, Reuters estimates that insider attacks account for 20% of all combat related deaths that coalition forces have suffered in 2012.

The rising pattern of green-on-blue incidents has set off alarm bells from Kabul to Washington and London. By mid-summer the attacks had already reached epidemic proportions, when a string of attacks left 10 U.S. troops dead in a two-week span, after which the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, traveled to Kabul to meet with senior commanders and Afghan officials to discuss what was emerging as a crisis.

By August, a series of emergency steps had been implemented to reduce or eliminate insider attacks, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. Among them, stricter vetting of Afghan recruits, beefed-up counterintelligence teams, mandatory interviews for Afghan soldiers returning from leave, a new “warning and reporting system for insider threats,” including a process for anonymous tips, and more. Still, in early September, U.S. Special Operations forces suspended training the particularly troublesome Afghan Local Police (ALP) after the August 17 shooting death of two American special ops troops by ALP members.

Anthony Cordesman, the veteran CSIS military analyst, said in the report that “green on blue and other politically oriented strikes on both foreign and Afghan targets may be giving the insurgents back the overall momentum in the war.” That is true, he pointed out, even though it isn’t clear how many insider attacks are Taliban-inspired, and how many result from personal grudges and grievances or generalized anger against the U.S./ISAF coalition on the part of Afghan forces.

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