Attrition: Unfriendly Fire In Afghanistan


August 23, 2012: There has been a spike in NATO troops deaths at the hands of Afghan soldiers and police. The U.S. military, which has suffered most of these deaths, reports that investigations of the incidents shows that only about ten percent have anything to do with the Taliban. The rest are simply Afghans with guns doing what they have always done. The difference now is that there are armed foreigners around to get angry at and kill. But these attacks by allies attract a lot of media attention, which is what the Taliban wants. The Taliban needs all the help it can get because overall they are not doing too well.

Casualties among foreign troops are 23 percent lower this year (so far), both overall and for the current month (down 44 percent). This is largely because of far fewer roadside bomb casualties and continued reluctance of the Taliban to fight foreign troops. The most successful new Taliban tactic against foreign troops is to encourage or arrange attacks using Afghan soldiers or police (or Taliban disguised as such). So far this year, 13 percent of foreign troops killed have been because of these kinds of attacks. That's about twice the rate as last year. The Taliban can arrange such attacks by offering rewards (for killing foreign soldiers, long a practice in Afghanistan and Iraq) or target a particular soldier or policeman and threaten harm to his family if the attack is not made. In many cases it's impossible to determine if this was the case because the attacker was gunned down and his family won't talk to investigators.

These extortion and coercion tactics are commonly used against security force members for all sorts of reasons. There have always been some attacks like this because that kind of violence is part of Afghan culture, usually to help carry out some criminal enterprise. The Afghans just accept that sort of thing but foreigners are usually appalled. This acceptance of violence has made banditry, warlords, terrorism, and groups like the Taliban tolerable enough to thrive in Afghanistan. The drug gangs, which will dispense as much cash or violence as necessary to survive, could not exist without the unique Afghan culture.

Since 2001, some three percent of NATO deaths in Afghanistan have been caused by Afghan security forces or, much less frequently, Taliban wearing uniforms and pretending to be friendly troops or police. Actually, about a third of these killing are carried out by Afghan soldiers or police suffering from combat fatigue (stress, PTSD). They more frequently kill other Afghans but those deaths receive little exposure in the Western media.

About ten percent of the attackers are pretenders. The uniforms are acquired by bribes or via purchase from tailors who have learned how to make convincing facsimiles. Afghan police are now hunting for these entrepreneurs, one of whom even set up a small factory to turn out counterfeit army uniforms.

While “rogue Afghan soldiers” get most of the headlines, some of these NATO deaths were caused by real Afghan soldiers and police who were bribed or coerced (by kidnapping a parent or threatening to) into doing it. Most are by Taliban who joined the police or army to act as “insiders” for the Taliban. But it’s becoming more difficult for a known Taliban or Taliban sympathizer to join the security forces. Applicants must bring two recommendations from elders in their village or neighborhood. Then fingerprints and iris scans are taken and quickly compared to a database containing all current and former government employees, as well as anyone arrested for criminal behavior (or suspicion of same).

Thus these attacks stem from several sources, one of the more common being anger management issues so common among Afghan men. Then there is the corruption and ruthlessness. It remains easy to bribe or coerce a real soldier or policeman to try and kill NATO troops, or to get real or counterfeit uniforms and train some Taliban to look like troops long enough to get close and open fire.


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