29 Aug 2012

Afghanistan: Why ‘green on blue’ killings are on the rise

In Afghanistan, the Nato forces call it ‘green on blue’ – a rather neutral sounding description for the bloody, close-up horror of what actually occurs.

The horror of circumstances in which Nato forces train and mentor Afghan army soldiers, some 350,000 strong these days, only for those soldiers – in their green fatigues, hence the name – to turn their rifles on Nato soldiers at close range with predictably bloody and fatal results.

It’s a vital issue now: US President Barack Obama saying he’s concerned about it ‘top to bottom’; the Nato boss in Afghanistan, US General John Allen, addressing the issue repeatedly in recent days.

Vital because the heart of Nato’s departure from Afghanistan in 2014 rests upon having credible Afghan armed forces to take over the relentless job of trying to bring some kind of stability to the country.

As the Americans in Afghanistan love to say: “When they stand up – we stand down”.

The grand exit strategy of getting out of Afghanistan after 11 years of grim warfare,3000 US and 425 British lives lost –  rests on this one thing happening successfully above all else.

But the trends are worrying.

Rising death toll

The first instance of an Afghan soldier attacking Nato forces occurred around 2005 and since then things have gone from bad to worse. This year already the total has passed the 40 mark as opposed to 35 all of last year and far fewer in the years preceding.

Different parties point to different reasons. President Hamid Karzai openly attacking the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI for brainwashing young kids in Pakistan and infiltrating them into the army to attack NATO from within.

In recent days the American general commanding Nato’s forces in Afghanistan, John Allen, gave a rather peppery response to that, telling his bosses in Washington that he looked forward to seeing the evidence which leads the Afghan president to this conclusion. Sceptical, you might say…

The general remains steadfast, on message and on course for the massive pull-out, writing recently he said:

“We have implemented measures to better protect our troops; we have helped build an Afghan force of close to 350,000; and Afghans are leading security operations in three-quarters of the country. This momentum is irreversible.

“But the real story here is green and blue. Every day, hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police across this nation work and fight side by side with coalition troops to defeat our common enemies and protect the civilian population”

Those resisting the Nato presence of course claim it’s all part of a carefully orchestrated process of infiltration and hitting their ‘enemy’ from within.

‘I have been personally hurt by American forces’

Doubtless that’s an important part of it – but so too are simple cultural frictions in this enforced marriage of cultures.

Newsweek has published an illuminating interview with a veteran senior Afghan officer who clearly must remain anonymous but who tells the magazine:

“I understand why our men are shooting US and NATO soldiers. I too have been personally hurt by the way American forces behave towards my soldiers, our villagers, our religion and culture. Too many of them are racist, arrogant, and simply don’t respect us.”

All too often incidents involving foreign troops cause riots and loss of life across Afghanistan and remain long in the public memory. Whereas they are quickly forgotten in Western countries.

The burning of Korans at the massive US base at Bagram just north of Kabul caused widespread outrage well beyond the rural Pashtun areas loyal to the Taliban. Youtube footage of US forces urinating on the corpses of Afghan insurgents was viewed in just the same way of course and just as widely.

The US soldier who inexplicably went on the rampage down in the south of the country massacring 16 civilians including women and children – the incidents go on happening.

The long haul

All of it adds up, in truth, to the scenario Nato and the Afghan government profoundly agree on – Nato’s just been here too long. It is too often viewed by too many Afghans as an army of occupation, not a force come to promote and impose stability and peace. On this both the government and Nato would concur.

But now the job of leaving is made all the harder because, instead of getting ever closer in the daily bonding needed to build a credible Afghan army and armed police force, they must necessarily be more wary of each other. So-called ‘guardian angel’ soldiers with loaded magazines in their rifles now hover everywhere – at meal times…in the gym…and at the mentoring and training sessions…ready in a second to open fire.

Conducive to mutual understanding and trust it is not. The job of creating a new model army in this war-weary country was never easy, now it is harder than ever.

Even the general is scaling down the sense of what is possible. No talk of nation-building and democracy – just the narrow objective of ousting not even the Taliban and other resistance forces – but just al Qaeda – but even that is dependent on those men in green:

“We can achieve what we set out to do in Afghanistan, defeating al-Qaeda and denying it a haven, but that depends on achieving an Afghanistan that can stand on its own”.

And the doubts on that latter point grow with every new attack of green on blue.

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