After months of simultaneously taking seriously and dismissing the “green-on-blue” attacks inside Afghanistan as the work of Afghan troops bent on killing due to perceived cultural slights, NATO forces have officially pared back their operations with their putative Afghan partners.
The decision – taken by Army Lieut. General James Terry, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan – means that NATO and U.S. partnering with Afghan soldiers and police on patrols is no longer standard practice. The International Security Assistance Force issued a statement playing down the change.
It comes two weeks after the U.S. Special Operations Command suspended such partnering with Afghan local police, a tiny slice of the overall effort that was made total Sunday. It came amid a grim weekend in which six allied troops were slain by Afghan security forces, boosting the total allied killed in such attacks this year to 51, compared to 35 for all of 2011.
(PHOTOS: Erin Trieb’s Homecoming Project: Capturing War Through Veteran Tales)
“My intent is to drive down and defeat this threat,” Terry told Pentagon reporters via a video press conference Sept. 5. “The reality is we’re going to face this.”
He rattled off why the green-on-blue attacks continue. “I think what you’re seeing is an enemy out there that [is] adaptive. His counter-IED campaign is not working. His assassination, intimidation campaign is turning the population against him. I think he’s very concerned about the growing capability of the Afghan national security forces.”
Perhaps. But it U.S. and NATO forces backing down less than two weeks later, on his orders.
On Sept. 5, Terry listed what the allies planned to do to counter such attacks:
— What this is moving toward specifically is implementing improvements in their vetting system — their vetting system that’s been established.
— It’s also caused them to re-look back to their procedures and then re-look a number of individuals.
— In addition to that, they’re looking at increased efforts to improve the living conditions for their soldiers and also how they prepare their soldiers for leave periods, and then specifically how they address those soldiers once they return from leave.
— One of the things we’re looking at in relationship to doing that are the religious culture advisers which plays a huge role in the everyday life of the Afghan policeman and Army soldier that’s out there.
Unfortunately, believing such steps will curb green-on-blue attacks is as much wishful thinking as it is a strategy.
(MORE: Afghanistan After 9/11: A Mission Unaccomplished)
Terry’s decision makes three things clear: first, that NATO and the U.S. are unable to stop the insider attacks. More importantly, it signals that those who would kill their U.S. and NATO allies are having an impact, which U.S. officials fear can only embolden others.
Finally, the decision is a monkey wrench in NATO’s efforts to train 352,000 Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 so that U.S. and allied forces can withdraw from the fight. With the trust fissure rupturing into a chasm, training will be tougher to do, and fewer Afghan forces will be trained.
Joint NATO-Afghan operations will still be permitted, but they will require a specific approval from a regional commander. The question will be how freely such approval will be given, and what will happen to the commander who gives such approval only to have a “green-on-blue” attack kill one or more of his troops.
The Pentagon, and the Obama Administration, sense public support is threadbare for the Afghan mission when you have a grieving father speaking of his son’s warning that he would be killed on post by a purported Afghan ally.
The family of Greg Buckley, Jr., attended their town’s first home football game this season Friday night in Oceanside, some 30 miles east of the World Trade Center on Long Island. Greg Jr., 21, was supposed to have been at the game to watch his youngest brother play varsity for the first time. “Greg was supposed to be home for this game,” 17-year old Justin told CNN. Instead, an Afghan trainee killed him Aug. 10, two days before he was to leave the country.
MORE: Why Afghanistan Isn’t a Campaign Issue: Neither Obama nor Romney Have a Solution