U.S. facing growing ‘green-on-blue’ challenge
August 30th, 2012
12:24 PM ET

U.S. facing growing ‘green-on-blue’ challenge

 By Ahmad Majidyar, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

A gunman in an Afghan army uniform killed three Australian soldiers in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday night, the latest in an alarming string of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks that have eroded morale and trust at a critical juncture as foreign troops are withdrawing and transitioning security to the Afghan lead. The deaths bring the number of foreign troops killed by Afghan allies, or by Taliban fighters disguised as them, to 45 this year, most of them Americans.

According to General John R. Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been responsible for one quarter of these attacks through infiltration, coercion and impersonation. The new threat has been a PR disaster for Kabul and Washington, but a propaganda victory for the Taliban. In his Eid al-Fitr message, the insurgent group’s reclusive leader Mullah Omar claimed his fighters had “cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy,” and that the Taliban had created the “Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration” department to encourage more defections.

But while the Taliban has played a role, the majority of these attacks have been carried out by disgruntled Afghans with no connection with the insurgents.

One reason is battle fatigue. Afghanistan has already surpassed Vietnam as America’s longest war. For Afghans, the country has been embroiled in ceaseless conflict since the 1978 Soviet-backed coup. Drug addiction and mental disorders among Afghan soldiers and policemen are other key factors. A lack of cultural and religious sensitivity, as well as instances of miscommunication and verbal arguments, has also triggered such attacks. It is not a coincidence that insider attacks sharply increased after the Kandahar massacre and Quran burning by American soldiers earlier this year.

Left unchecked, these attacks have serious implications for the transition plan and NATO’s Afghanistan exit strategy. Insider attacks are particularly worrying because they call into question the most critical pillar of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan strategy, which is to train and build a capable and credible Afghan force that can maintain security and prevent the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda after foreign troops’ departure in two years. Training and mentoring requires close partnership and is impossible without trust. One damaging effect would be a reduction in joint operations.

A continuation of insider killings could also produce political costs, and would further erode public support for the war in the U.S. and Europe. About two-thirds of Americans already do not want troops to be fighting in Afghanistan, and more such attacks would create domestic pressure on allied nations to withdraw troops faster than the 2014 timeline. Indeed, troop casualties were one reason countries such as France and New Zealand charted a faster pullout plan.

So, what can be done? First, the Afghan and U.S. governments need to get on the same page over the issue. The Afghan government, contradicting NATO officials’ findings, blames foreign spy agencies, a euphemism for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for the attacks. Both sides need to agree on what the real causes are and to act in unison to reduce the threat.

To mitigate the Taliban infiltration, both the Afghan and coalition forces need to increase the number of their intelligence and counterintelligence personnel. The Afghan government, meanwhile, needs to implement a more rigorous vetting and recruitment process. More in-depth cultural awareness arrangements for coalition and Afghan forces could also prove useful. NATO officials should also ensure that new security measures are balanced. Too extreme measures could offend the Afghans, widen the gap between the two allies, and increase the level of threat.

The insider attacks are still isolated incidents and do not reflect the overall security situation in Afghanistan – coalition and Afghan forces make hundreds of contacts and conduct joints operations on a daily basis. The Afghan security forces have seen remarkable progress in size and quality over the past two years, and some 350,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen are now responsible for security of more than half the population. But if insider killings continue to rise dramatically, they could potentially derail the overall Afghanistan strategy and undo gains made over a decade of conflict.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Military • Taliban • United States

soundoff (221 Responses)
  1. GonzoinHouston

    We'll pull out shortly after the election. And BTW, the Afghanistan invasion was different from the Iraq invasion. Afghanistan was justified. bin Laden hit us on 9/11, the Taliban gave him shelter, and that is grounds for war. We came, we ran out the Taliban, and eventually killed bin Laden. We're done; let's go home.

    Iraq was never justified. There were no WMD's or links to al-Qaeda. W & co. made it all up. The troops did great, but the politicians were criminal. We still don't know the real reason our leadership was so determined to invade. But we know the cost in US troops, Iraqi civilians, and money.

    September 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • Christina

      You're right that Afghanistan was the right war and Iraq wasn't. But you're wrong that we should leave immediately because bin Laden is death. Al Qaeda is not a single person; it is an ideology and it's an organization intent on destruction of the Western world. Bin Laden is gone, but his followers are there. The new al Qaeda leader is in Pakistan with thousands of followers. And the Taliban are their allies. We can't leave prematurely and let achievements of our troops in the past decade to be wasted. We need to continue helping the Afghan security forces so that they can defend their own country.

      September 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
    • we've stopped fighting

      Whoever hit U on 9/11 died the same day. Whoever planned the attack should have been found, interrigated and killed. And I don't think that US really needed to send more than a special unit or tomohawk missile to achieve it

      September 4, 2012 at 1:46 am | Reply
    • tom

      there was proof of wmd and also they would not let the inspectors in like the un agreements required inspectors where rejected access about 15 times so we had all rights to invade at least it started of real good shock and ah that is only thing is we stopped the shock and ah too soon that was the only mistake

      September 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  2. OvernOut

    There must be another way of phrasing this international issue instead of "green on blue challenge". People are dying, but that headline makes it sound like college football Saturday when Michigan State takes on Michigan.

    September 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      Unfortunately OvernOut, most Americans do tend to look upon this obnoxious war as another sporting event, the NATO troops being our boys and the Taliban being the opposing team. This is totally wrong and ignorant, but the politicians in Washington are glad that the majority of Americans feel that way so they can use it to enhance their political careers! The real tragedy is that this war is completely unnecessary and useless!

      September 2, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
      • Christina

        You're wrong. This war started as a response to the 9/11. If we leave Afghanistan prematurely, we'll revert to the pre9/11 situation. The Taliban and al Qaeda will come back to parts of the country and plot against us. We need to end the war responsibly. All the sacrifices of the past decade shouldn't go in vain.

        September 3, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
      • ab cd

        >> most Americans do tend to look upon this obnoxious war as another sporting event,

        All too true.

        Not that any other nation views their wars any different.

        Governments the world over have shown us that ALL peoples prefer war,
        in all times, and in all places.

        It is just a matter of when and who.

        People will not tolerate peace.

        Never have, and never will.

        This is not uniquely an American problem; this is the state of an uncivilized race that
        has not reached maturity, and never will.

        September 4, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  3. SD_USMC.mos0311

    Just kill them all. Stronger powers always force their will on the weak that's how life is. We have to be a stronger imperialistic nation

    September 2, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Reply

    We need to KEEP our troops in Afghanistan for another 100 years.
    It does not matter even if we get our white butts kicked red, blue and of course white
    like a pig. We deserve this.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Reply

    we should eat our own excrement to survive this war

    stay the course and bring it on.

    September 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Reply
  6. Southerner01

    I wonder if this is plagiarized?

    September 2, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  7. Bob Teegardin

    It is now time to bring our troops home they have done a great job and now it is up to the Afghan people to do what they must. It seems to most of the America that this country got the help they needed and now we can not hold there hands any more. We need to look at America and start taken care of our own now, not everyone else.

    September 3, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
  8. TOMG


    September 3, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
  9. Nuster

    We have aproximately 30,000 Red White & Blue attacks on Red White & Blue resulting in death within the borders of the USA every year. And yet there will be no chants and flag waving at either political convention about this. If drunk drivers were killing 20,000 to 30,000 US troops in Afganastan each year the pundits would be protesting. And yet Clint Eastwood mentioned nothing about this. Neither did Ted Nugent. They both recently had a national spotlight. Anything from the Tea Party, Rush, Glen, Hannity, or Grover?. Guess it is acceptable.

    September 3, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
  10. john

    Why don't they call it blue on green attacks? The ones with the blue uniforms are attacking our troops with green uniforms... Just saying

    September 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  11. Bob

    The war story never told, how the independent Vietnam farms , who needed no government had to be displace for one power are the other. It really don't matter much what the government calls it's self after the deed is done. The money and wealth still ends up with the money changers of the world.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  12. mim

    Oh no, the locals don't like the invaders? Big surprise.

    Ditch those holes and let them fight themselves.

    September 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Reply
  13. Xira Arien

    It's kinda time we got out of there, they don't want us there, right?

    September 6, 2012 at 2:07 am | Reply
  14. Xira Arien

    It's kinda time we got out of there, they don't want us there, right?

    September 6, 2012 at 2:07 am | Reply
    • Afghan

      No, wrong. A majority of Afghans still support the presence of foreign troops in the country. They don't want the return of terrorist Taliban. The insider attacks are carried out by a few individuals. There are 350,000 Afghan forces along more than 100,000 foreign troops jointly operating every day. The both see the Taliban and al Qaeda as common enemy.

      September 6, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
  15. EvilWorm

    It is obvious that Afgan Army is already taking orders from the Taliban. They are just greasing the way after NATO leaves a half hearted half done job unfinished.

    September 6, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  16. Scott

    When Bush put us into this war there was never a plan to get out, The Republican don't want us to end it they have done everything to make sure we never get out, If Romney is elected we can begin to call it the never ending WAR, it will never end, It is just time to get out of this mess, bring our troops home once and for all. and the hell with them, and If they should ever attack America again we can respond by bombing them beyond the stone age, there is no law that we have to rebuild there country and spend our money waiting 2 years more to withdraw hell with that do it now, think about how much we will save

    September 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  17. Olen Jones

    We keep trying to turn Afghanistan into a "country", the way we think of a country. It's never going to happen.

    September 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
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