According to Defense Department and International Security Assistance Force statistics cited in a recent news report, at least 107 U.S. and NATO troops have been killed in attacks by so-called “allies” since 2007. Worse still, the situation in Afghanistan will only deteriorate more if U.S. military leaders continue to do things as they’ve always done them when it comes to combating “green-on-blue” (a.k.a., “insider”) attacks by members of the Afghan National Security Force against Americans and other coalition members in Afghanistan.
To back up the assessment above, I point to the findings of an unclassified study, “A CRISIS OF TRUST AND CULTURAL INCOMPATIBILITY,” by behavioral scientist Jeffrey Bordin, Ph.D., published May 12, 2011.
Commissioned by leaders of ISAF, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the study’s 70-page report begins on page 3 with an Executive Summary highlighting what took place during a four-year period beginning in May 2007. The text of that Executive Summary appears below, unedited except for spelling out some acronyms but otherwise modified only in format:
Since May, 2007, there have been at least 26 murder/attempted murder incidents by ANSF or Afghan Security Guard members against ISAF/United Nations Assistance Mission Afghanistan members, resulting in the killings of at least 58 Western personnel. Most of these incidents have occurred since Oct. 2009, representing 6% of all hostile deaths by ISAF during this period.
Such fratricide-murder incidents are no longer isolated; they reflect a growing systemic threat. They are also provoking a crisis of confidence and trust among Westerners training and working with ANSFs.
Rather than just a result of insurgent infiltration into ANSF, indicators exist that many of these fratricide incidents resulted from personal clashes. Therefore, a field study was undertaken to assess ANSF members’ and U.S. Soldiers’ perceptions of each other; specifically, to identify those behaviors that upset them or cause anger.
Sixty-eight focus groups were conducted on 613 ANSF personnel throughout three provinces at 19 locations. Their reported negative views, experiences and observations of U.S. Soldiers’ social behaviors were recorded.
ANSF members identified numerous social, cultural and operational grievances they have with U.S. Soldiers. Factors that created animosity were reviewed through a content analysis that measured frequency and intensity of the perceived grievances.
Factors that fueled the most animosity included U.S. convoys not allowing traffic to pass, reportedly indiscriminant return U.S. fire that causes civilian casualties, naively using flawed intelligence sources, U.S. Forces conducting night raids/home searches, violating female privacy during searches, U.S. road blocks, publicly searching/disarming ANSF members as a Standard Operating Procedure when they enter bases, and past massacres of civilians by U.S. Forces (i.e., the Wedding Party Massacre, the Shinwar Massacre, etc.).
Other issues that led to altercations or near altercations (including many self-reported near-fratricide incidents) included urinating in public, their cursing at, insulting and being rude and vulgar to ANSF members, and unnecessarily shooting 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. CAT 1 interpreters’ (n=30) views were similar to the ANSF’S.
U.S. Soldiers’ (n=215) views of ANSF, particularly of the Afghan National Army, were also collected; they were extremely negative.
They reported illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapons handling, corrupt officers, no real NCO corps, covert alliances/informal treaties with insurgents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, laziness, repulsive hygiene and the torture of dogs.
Perceptions of civilians were also negative stemming from their insurgent sympathies and cruelty towards women and children.
Recommendations (n=58) included ensuring improved convoy driving practices, explaining need for roadblocks, vetting/training special ANSF search teams (including more females), reviewing base security SOPs, monitoring religious radicalism in ANSF, reforming various dysfunctional ANSF practices, improving ANSF evaluation metrics, conducting more research in local patterns of life, and developing improved cultural and human relations trainings and behavior standards.
On the heels of that Executive Summary, the report’s Introduction begins on page 4 and includes the following description of the dangers now faced by foreign troops working alongside members of the ANSF:
Of note, during the last six month period (November, 2010 through April, 2011) Westerners stationed within Afghanistan’s N2KL region (Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman provinces) who regularly interact and/or train with ANSFs have been over 150 times more likely to be murdered by an ANSF member than a U.S. police officer is to be murdered in the line of duty by any perpetrator (see Appendix B, pg. 59 for calculation); this excludes the additional risks associated with regular combat for these coalition personnel.
It is in the report’s Conclusion, beginning on page 52, where the author pulls no punches in nine sometimes-lengthy paragraphs which I share below:
Despite repeated official euphemistic pronouncements of “hopeful optimism” and “fragile progress” (pernicious intuitive-based rhetorical illusions that has fully ejected all critical analysis from deliberations), the war of perceptions is not going well in Afghanistan, and the results of the present study add to a litany of recent research reports, journalistic accounts and social atmospheric studies that sound this warning. However, rather than primarily being a result of any effective Taliban-sponsored propaganda (which remains quite impactful), much of this problem is of our own making. We have very often been our own worst enemy in winning the allegiance of the Afghans. Many of the policies and behaviors of ISAF have been and continue to be self-defeating (including the prolonged and gross neglect in dealing with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s pervasive corruption). As was mentioned by several ANSF members, for many years U.S. (and other ISAF) military convoys sped through the streets of local Afghan villages, running down small children who couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, while shouting profanities and throwing water bottles at people from their turrets. Even then the obtuse questions among many ISAF members included, “Why don’t they like us?” and “Why don’t they warn us about the IEDs planted in the road?” Although such driving SOPs have largely been reformed, bitter memories and hatred linger. (Improvised Explosive Devices have long become the number one worst killer of ISAF soldiers, despite the tens of billions spent since 2006 in high technologies to counter them; a tragedy that simple common sense and decency had not been implemented much earlier into ISAF doctrinal driving practices.) And according to many of this study’s participants, as well as other recent research and journalistic accounts, there continue to be many ISAF policies, actions and behaviors that infuriate and alienate much of the Afghan populace, including our armed ANSF counterparts. We lack the luxury to continue to volitionally ignore such personal, social and cultural violations, or to be ignorant of them in the first place.
ISAF’s emphasis on quantity over quality with regard to the ANSF’s buildup has been self-destructive. Such an approach has placed U.S. and other ISAF soldiers in profoundly difficult circumstances by having to train Afghans who are illiterate, unmotivated (with an annual attrition rate of 25% mostly due to desertion), often drug-addicted, very often come from the least desired segments of Afghan society, and are somewhat prone to turning on and murdering their Western trainers (ISAF host nations should be fully aware of the magnitude of the dangers their sons and daughters face when assigned to train, mentor and work with ANSF personnel). ISAF personnel are then expected to transform them into legitimate functional soldiers and policemen, all while having no authority to hold any of them accountable for their criminal behaviors and/or incompetence. ISAF soldiers engaged in training and ‘partnering’ must also work with deeply flawed Afghan institutions that are little more than organized crime syndicates and where accountability is almost unheard of. Dealing with such organizational cultures and operational working conditions and limitations cause great stress and exasperation for ISAF troops. Unless fundamental changes are made to ISAF’s ability to institute reform on profoundly dysfunctional Afghan governmental systems and key leaders, then any efforts in developing a legitimate, functional and trustworthy Afghan army and police force will continue to be futile.
Unfortunately, the rapidly growing fratricide-murder trend committed by ANSF personnel against ISAF members is a valid Counterinsurgency measure of the ineffectiveness in our efforts in stabilizing Afghanistan, developing a legitimate and effective government, battling the insurgency, gaining the loyalty, respect and friendship of the Afghans, building the ANSFs into legitimate and functional organizations, and challenges the efficacy of the ‘partnering’ concept. This is all the more a paradox given ISAF’s assumption of and planned reliance for the ANSFs to be able to be able to take over the security burden before it can disengage from this grossly prolonged conflict. This study shows that certain behaviors and policies (such as night raids and home searches that directly involve U.S. Soldiers) have generated a great deal of animosity among much of the Afghan civilian populace as well as with many ANSF personnel that impedes the overall strategic effort. Such practices are simply unacceptable if ISAF is to be even marginally successful here. Regrettably, our ISAF troops in the field are bearing the consequences by being murdered in increasingly unprecedented numbers by the very ANSF members they are here to mentor, train and ‘partner’ with. Such fratricide is fast leading to a crisis of trust between the two forces, if it hasn’t reached this point already.
This study’s findings also challenge assumptions and official pronouncement that the continuing pattern of fratricide murders by ANSF personnel are “isolated” and largely being committed by insurgent infiltrators. The research completed here shows that there is a great deal of deep seated anger, distrust and cultural incompatibility between U.S. and ANSF personnel that is precluding further development of the ANSF as well as greatly endangering the lives of U.S. and other ISAF soldiers.
ISAF leaders must be willing to analyze and incorporate the second and third order effects of their policies, decisions, and actions as well as the training and behaviors of their soldiers as related to Afghan cultural sensitivities and expectations. Otherwise, the war of perceptions will continue to deteriorate towards an inevitable defeat. Actions that alienate and infuriate the Afghan populace will not contribute towards building a country that has either the capacity or willingness to challenge anti-Western extremism. Quite the opposite; such actions contribute to the metastasizing extremism, radicalism and theocratic tyranny being witnessed among much of Afghan society. (This should not be surprising given that a great man of the imams and mullahs emplaced by the Taliban government ten to fifteen years ago are the very same ones still preaching hatred today–nice of ISAF to refurbish their mosques and provide funds to the GIRoA to pay their salaries!)
However, this is not a call for appeasement to a highly toxic culture (such as the U.S. Army’s ‘encouragement’ that its female soldiers wear a hijab instead of their Kevlar thus placating Afghan perceptions of women’s lower social status as well as putting them at additional unnecessary risk). All too often, ISAF political and military officials as well as the international media have prostrated themselves before the alters of multiculturalism, moral relativity and political correctness and have excused inexcusable behaviors on the part of the Afghans (witness one senior ISAF official who described a riot that included an Afghan mob’s heinous murder of seven UNAMA workers, beheading two, in Mazar-e-Sharif in response to a copy of the Koran being burned in Florida as “understandable passions”). Such ethically challenged apologist perspectives hinder any movement towards advancing the Afghan culture beyond its toxic medieval mentality or curbing a violent and unquestioning ideology. Rather, this is a recommendation not to add fuel to the fire of cultural incompatibility by unnecessarily offending Afghans with various abrasive policies or coarse behaviors that most any people would find offensive.
As long as ISAF political and military leaders are committed to the ‘partnering’ program with ANSF, more decisive efforts towards developing procedures and protocols, and perhaps most importantly, cultivating appropriate attitudes and mindsets specifically tailored to meet and satisfy Afghan cultural and theological sensitivities and normative demands are vital components towards improving the safety of ISAF soldiers. This is admittedly an extremely difficult task given that the mutual feelings between ISAF and ANSF personnel is quite often one of a very strong dislike, even contempt. Namely one group generally sees the other as a bunch of violent, reckless, intrusive, arrogant, self-serving, profane, infidel bullies hiding behind high technology; and the other group generally views the former as a bunch of cowardly, incompetent, obtuse, thieving, complacent, lazy, pot-smoking, treacherous and murderous radicals. Such is the state of progress in the current ‘partnering’ program. Less this seem an exaggeration refer bak to the first few pages of this report as well as Appendix A on the rate of deliberate fratricide-murders that are taking place.
Stemming from the severe negativity of perceptions found in much of this field study, it would be advisable to pursue regular comprehensive social atmospherics research and monitoring with ANSF units on a continuing basis, especially in light of the rapidly increasing fratricide-murder threat ISAF soldiers are confronted with. The current ‘Ostrich Head in the Hole’ cognitive dissonance approach to this lethal problem is not working.
Four years ago after the May 6, 2007 murder of two U.S. Soldiers (COL James Harrison, Jr., and MSG Wilberto Sabalu, Jr.) by an ANA soldier, an Afghan government official urged “patience” regarding ISAF’s response to this killing. After an additional 54 murders of ISAF personnel since then the time for “patience” is long past. Decisive actions in countering this murder epidemic are called for.
Despite the publication of Bordin’s report more than 15 months ago, the number of fratricide-murders has not decreased. In fact, the attacks — known for several years as “green-on-blue” due to the green uniforms worn by Afghans and the blue helmets worn by ISAF members — spiked during 2012 and have earned U.S. military leaders a torrent of unwanted headlines.
Gen. Martin Dempsey
Beginning Aug. 14, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General John Allen, ISAF commander, launched a top-down public relations campaign to relabel the incidents as “insider” attacks, telling all who would listen that the old “green-on-blue” label understated the fact that Afghans are “suffering from the same … trend that we’re suffering from.” In essence, as I reported in an article Thursday, the generals have opted to engage in semantics instead of focusing on the all-important first first step toward bringing an end to the attacks, proper vetting of AFNS personnel.
The first step on the path toward properly vetting AFNS soldiers and police requires Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta — or his successor — rescind a five-year-old memo issued by then-Under Secretary of Defense and now Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., our nation’s highest-ranking intelligence official.
In my upcoming second nonfiction book, THE CLAPPER MEMO, set for release this fall, I share more than three years of investigative details about the interrogation technologies currently available and, in particular, one proven-effective and affordable technology that’s no longer being used by DoD agencies as a result of the aforementioned memo.
Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice, a nonfiction book that’s available in paperback and ebook via most online booksellers, including Amazon.com.