Of “Green-on-Blue” Killings, and Army Suicides

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Battleland's Mark Thompson and PBS' Jeff Brown on the NewsHour

Battleland was invited to be on Friday’s PBS NewsHour, but this invitation had a twist that made it different than all that had come before. Host Jeff Brown and his producer, Dan Sagalyn, wanted a two-fer: first, they wanted to discuss the latest “green on blue” killings in Afghanistan. But they also wanted to ask questions about the July’s surprising Army suicide numbers, showing that suicide among soldiers is now 50% higher than among their age-adjusted civilian cohort.

As we tried to explain in the segment, after 10 years of war perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at either of these outcomes. They both involve killing – the heart of warfare – but in a perverse way. In one case, our allies seem to be increasingly turning on us. In the second, soldiers are increasingly turning on themselves.

It’s plain that warfare is an unnatural state, and occupying a nation for more than a decade is going to send foes looking for vulnerabilities. We saw that with the rise of explosive-improvised devices in Iraq – the U.S. was woefully unprepared for their use – and we’re seeing it again in Afghanistan as a small number of its fighters sign up for military service only for the opportunity to kill their trainers.

We’re also witnessing its impact in the rise of soldier suicides as legions are sent off to war again and again. Last week, the Army suggested it’s the decompression from the wars – when soldiers finally realize they can get off the combat treadmill – that is causing problems back home. Families suddenly become relevant again, reintegration can falter, and depression leading to suicide may be occurring.

Both the green-on-blue killings and suicides have gotten a lot of attention lately, but no clear answers have surfaced. War, alas, has its own peculiar logic, and sometimes the world’s most costly military seems powerless to combat all of its challenges, whether on the battlefield or the home front.

Peter Dow
Peter Dow

Afghan forces. Green-on-blue attacks. The solution.

The Afghan National Army, the "green" force is rotten, if not to its core then to much of the periphery. Some of the green is more like gangrene (gan-green, get it! )

The problem I see is in the disconnect between the political control (Karzai) and the funding (mostly from the USA but anyway internationally funded).

Quote: Wikipedia: Afghan National Army The new Afghan National

Army was founded with the issue of a decree by President Hamid Karzai on

December 1, 2002

Karzai as the "duly" (ahem) elected president of Afghanistan is perfectly entitled to run an Afghan national army but Afghans should pay for that themselves.

Afghanistan is a poor nation and could not afford that much of an army but if they paid for it themselves, at least the Afghan national army would likely be honest, accountable to Afghans and take on limited tasks - secure the presidential palace, military headquarters and might be up to defending the capital Kabul and surrounding land, maybe.

Now the issue is this - to secure all of Afghanistan, even to secure our supply routes, we need lots of troops and it makes sense to have some kind of Afghan force to help us - but we need a bigger and better green force than the Afghans can afford to pay for. (Also why would a national Afghan force want to prioritise defending our supply routes? They wouldn't want to.)

So the West, NATO needs to pay for some green Afghan forces - that's a good idea, if, if, if, if and only if, those green forces we are paying for are auxiliary to NATO-ISAF - run by NATO-ISAF - under the control of a NATO general, maybe an American general if you could find a good one to do it.

That way we would only recruit capable Afghans into the green force we pay for and

interact with daily. We'd be sure our green troops were loyal - wouldn't shoot our blue troops.

No way would we have any incentive to spend our own money on disloyal incapable Afghans in green uniform so we would not do it, if we had political and military control over our green forces, which we would have if they were called "The NATO-ISAF Afghan auxiliary force" - with no pretence of them being an Afghan national force under Karzai.

However, some idiot has come up with the idea of paying Afghans to have an army funded by us but controlled by Karzai so there is no accountability. The people in charge, deciding who to recruit, can recruit bad soldiers because they get paid more by the US for soldiers, whether they be bad soldiers or not.

Why wouldn't Karzai and this guy Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Karim, Commander of the Afghan National Army recruit junkies, thieves, murderers and agents for the Taliban into the Afghan National Army?

Why wouldn't they recruit anybody they can find into the Afghan national army if,

for every soldier they can name, they get paid more US dollars?

Where's the incentive for Karzai and Karim to recruit only good soldiers? There isn't

any incentive at all.

Again the US ends up funding corruption.

If a green soldier kills a blue then who gets held responsible in the

chain of command?

Nobody gets held responsible.

Who should get held responsible? The US and NATO should. We should blame ourselves for paying anything for an army which we do not have any political control over.

What on earth does Panetta (and what did Gates before him) think he is (was) doing trusting this guy Karzai and his general Karim with billions of US tax-payer dollars to pay for a green army?

Why are NATO defence ministers happy with the poor leadership from NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis? Shouldn't the NATO leaders have spotted this fatal flaw in green troop organisation and tried to re-organise green forces as I suggest here, if they know what they are doing (which they don't)?

The competent answer to green on blue attacks is to split up the Afghan army into two distinct forces -

* a national Afghan army which Afghans pay for and is commanded by the Afghan

president and whichever general he/she wants to appoint. (dark green)

* a NATO-ISAF auxiliary force of Afghans, funded by the US and other NATO

counties and international donors. This would be commanded by our generals.

(light green)

So there should be two green armies - each of a different shade of green. Karzai's dark green he would use to defend himself and his capital. Our light green we would use to defend our supply routes and to support our operations in Afghanistan generally.

Only when the Afghan economy had grown to the point that they could afford to pay for a big enough army to defend the whole country would we transfer our light green army over to Afghan national control and then we could leave Afghanistan in the hands of Afghans.

So long as we are paying for an Afghan force we must retain political control over it otherwise it fuels corruption and does little or nothing to help to fight the enemy we are trying to defeat and the green-on-blue attacks simply undermine political support for the whole Afghanistan / Pakistan mission.

AfPak Mission on YouTube

AfPak military strategy blog


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