The idea appeared to be a good one: Keep American and NATO troops in Afghanistan just long enough to train the Afghan troops to be sufficiently effective that they could defend their country from the radicals who would re-impose the radical religion-dictated rules of the Taliban.
But the good idea has been undermined by the ability of the enemy — the Taliban and its Afghan sympathizers — to turn their weapons on the foreigners in what are now commonly referred to as “insider” killings.
It is a peril that has seldom been encountered in previous military conflicts. A soldier posing as, and appearing to be, a loyal ally can suddenly pull out a weapon and begin firing at the American or NATO troops standing right next to them. There’s no way to predict where the next insider attack will occur.
Britain’s BBC radio reporters found that a disproportionate number of the soldiers who commit these insider shootings come from two remote districts close to the Pakistan border.
“These are areas where Taliban militants wield influence over local populations and the writ of central government is weak,” the BBC reported, adding that “many of the cases involved fake recruitment files” and that Afghan intelligence officials fear being confronted with rogue soldiers whose recruitment files have serious flaws.
“For example, in February 2012, police officer Abdul Saboor turned his guns on two NATO officials in the country’s interior ministry,” the BBC report continued. “An investigation revealed he had already been sacked (fired) twice by the police but gained re-entry into the force.”
One commander for the Afghan local police in Kunar, who had been a Taliban fighter, told the BBC that “two years ago (in 2010) there was a decision taken by Taliban leadership to focus more on infiltration and rogue soldiers instead of suicide attacks, and other attacks.”
But, the BBC continued, the motivation for many of the insider assaults cannot be explained quite that precisely. Many analysts, it said, believe they are actually rooted in underlying or even subconscious resentments that occasionally flare up with deadly consequences.
Some of these resentments may arise from major cultural differences. Many of Afghanistan’s security personnel come from deeply conservative and rural areas where certain codes of conduct are taken extremely seriously and can be casually but innocently violated by foreign troops unfamiliar with the local moral code.
“Profanity is seen as deeply insulting, even though it may be used casually and even humorously by Western soldiers,” the BBC report noted. Moreover, American soldiers often are accused of behaving in an arrogant and superior manner that offends the natives.
“Quite often foreign forces have no idea they have just insulted their colleagues,” the report continued.
But, in the larger scheme of things, these are minor matters. The larger concerns that trigger the deeper resentments with the more serious consequences include nighttime raids and especially raids on the homes of suspected fighters. While such raids often are considered ordinary and necessary military operations by westerners, to many Afghans, who deeply believe the home is a sanctuary, such raids stir bitter resentments.
A BBC reporter said that one rogue soldier he interviewed (after he had slain three British soldiers) explained he had seen coalition troops kill a young girl. “Was she a Taliban? They didn’t even know her name,” he said. Britain’s defense ministry disputed his claim.
Afghanistan has been and remains a huge challenge for our troops. This long war will end next year, yet it’s a safe bet the Taliban won’t go away.
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