On Sept. 15, 2012, the International Security Assistance Force issued a press release which stated that “[f]our International Security Assistance Force service members died today in southern Afghanistan following an insider attack suspected to involve members of the Afghan police,” and said the incident was under investigation.
The dates on the ISAF release indicated the attack took place that same day.
The following day, Pajhwok Afghan News provided a bit more detail:
Four foreign soldiers and a policeman were killed in the attack that occurred in the Mizan district of Zabul province, the deputy police chief, Col. Ghulam Gilani Farahi, told Pajhwok Afghan News.
The provincial police chief and other security officials visited the scene to investigate the incident, Farahi said, adding that more details would be shared with the media after the investigation was completed.
Meanwhile, the Taliban said four US soldiers were killed and several others wounded when a policeman loyal to the movement opened fire on them. Several policemen also suffered casualties when US troops returned fire, they added.
Beyond those two mentions, little if nothing was reported by ISAF or the Afghan and US media about the incident.
But the Taliban issued two statements on Sept. 16 about the attack: a Twitter posting by a Taliban representative claiming that the Zabul attack had been carried out with the aid of seven Afghan policemen who were retaliating for the film “Innocence of Muslims”; and a statement on the Taliban’s website by spokesman Imran Khalil claiming that an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of US soldiers in the Mizana district of Zabul province, killing four US soldiers and severely wounding others, as well as killing “a number of agent policemen.”
Eight months later, Adam Ashton, a reporter for the Tacoma News Tribune, has uncovered more about what happened that night, based on interviews with members of the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment unit from Lewis-McChord base who were deployed in Zabul’s Mizan district at the time, as well as family members of those deployed.
What he found is that the green-on-blue incident in Zabul was a carefully premeditated attack on six US troops at a vulnerable observation post by a team of six Afghan policemen working with them that night. The small US team had been shifted to the post a few weeks before the planned handover of the district to Afghan forces, even though Taliban forces were still significantly active in the area. Assessing factors involved in the attack, Ashton wrote: “A group of Afghan police either joined the security force with the intent of killing Americans from the inside, or they bowed to pressure from the Taliban to do so.”
After the shooting, five of the attackers escaped, and one Afghan policeman lay dead. Two American survivors of the incident differed as to how he was killed; one said the policeman had been killed by a US soldier after the Afghan police had opened fire; another maintained that the policeman had been shot by his Afghan colleagues for failing to join in the attack on the Americans.
The incident was investigated by both the Afghans and the Americans, and in its wake, the Afghan police lieutenant responsible for recruiting and daily operations in Mizan was fired, according to Ashton.
Disturbingly, however, results of the US military’s investigation still have not been released.
The consequences of this blue-on-green attack have been both immediate and long-term. After the attack, partnering between US and Afghan forces was first stopped altogether. The Mizan attack, and another that day, appear to have been the catalysts for the US Army to shut down the military’s partnering with the Afghan National Security forces throughout Afghanistan.
“[T]he ambush near Combat Outpost Mizan was so severe, and it followed so many other similar attacks, that it led the Army to shut down partnered operations with Afghan forces for two weeks,” Ashton writes. “This undermined the transition to Afghan control of the country — the very reason for the sustained US presence in what has become America’s longest war.”
Partnering resumed on a reduced basis at the end of September, and stricter vetting of new Afghan forces was imposed. But previously positive relationships between Afghan forces and their US mentors grew more tense and difficult. Now-retired Colonel Charles Webster, who commanded all US forces in Zabul and southern Kandahar provinces at the time, said: “In Mizan, the attack disrupted a spirit of cooperation between US and Afghan forces that [had] lasted throughout the deployment.”
The reduced cooperation between US and Afghan forces stemming from insider attacks such as the Mizan incident has affected the overall progress of the security transition, not only in Zabul but all across Afghanistan.
And as Ashton writes, “The betrayal in Mizan still burns among the soldiers who knew the fallen men.”