As the fog of war in Afghanistan clouded the death of the 2,000th U.S. troop there in the 11-year war, things seem to be reaching a tipping point.
George Will, the conservative columnist, asked an increasingly common question Sunday morning in the Washington Post:
Why are we staying there 27 more months?
Sunday night, in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Marine General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan made explicit what many U.S. officers have been saying privately in recent weeks:
You know, we’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.
The dare could hardly be more brazen: General Allen has made it clear that the fraying U.S.-Afghan relationship is on the verge of snapping, well before the planned pullout of all American combat forces by Dec. 31, 2014.
Whether that is sufficient to get Afghan superiors to rid their forces of possible “green-on-blue” killers – or simply encourages more such attacks by anti-American or pro-Taliban sympathizers already inside the Afghan security forces — remains unknowable.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that the continuing murder of U.S. troops would not derail the allies’ strategy in Afghanistan. “I expect that there will be more of these high-profile attacks and that the enemy will do whatever they can to try and break our will using this kind of tactic,” he said. “That will not happen.” NATO recently reduced its partnering with Afghan forces following a spate of such insider attacks, but U.S. officials have said they were returning to normal.
At least 52 coalition troops, mostly American, have died at the hands of Afghan security forces, about 15% of total deaths. The latest death pushed the tally of U.S. war dead in Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001, to 2,000.
Conflicting accounts of a Saturday clash in which two Americans – one military and one civilian contractor – and three Afghan troops showed how sour the relationship between the two allies has become.
(PHOTOS: U.S. Embassy Attacked in Kabul Last Year)
The allies’ International Security Assistance Force initially reported that “a suspected insider attack” had killed the NATO troop and contractor. “It is also known that there were Afghan National Army casualties.” It later elaborated: “after a short conversation took place between ANA and ISAF personnel firing occurred which resulted in the fatal wounding of an ISAF soldier and the death of his civilian colleague.”
Afghan officials said U.S. troops responded to a Taliban rocket attack in eastern Wardak province by firing on nearby Afghan troops who hadn’t fired the missile. A gunfight between the two ensued, leading to the five deaths. U.S. officials said Afghan forces killed the two Americans at a checkpoint, which led to a firefight in which three Afghan troops died.
Regardless, the bottom line remains the same: supposed allies are killing one another.
NATO officials tried to put a positive spin on their Afghan allies. “If you visit the people in the field who are working together closely with thousands of interactions everyday you see strong, trusting relationships resulting in cooperative operations delivering success,” British Lieut. General Adrian Bradshaw told reporters Sunday.
Perhaps. But not every cell in a body needs to be cancerous to kill. With the total size of Afghan security forces now at about 352,000 (195,000 soldiers and 157,000 national police), even if one-tenth of 1% are turncoats, that’s 350 human time bombs waiting for the right moment to explode.