Members of the Afghan National Security Forces again turned on their Western allies, killing a Coalition soldier and a civilian contractor in a firefight in a dangerous district in eastern Afghanistan. The green-on-blue, or insider attack, as the Coalition has begun to call such incidents, took place just two days after the US and NATO resumed joint operations with Afghan forces. The combined patrols were shut down on Sept. 18 after six Coalition soldiers were killed in three green-on-blue attacks in two days in mid-September.
The International Security Assistance force reported today that “an [ISAF] service member and an ISAF civilian contractor died following a suspected insider attack in eastern Afghanistan Sept. 29.”
“It is also known that there were Afghan National Army casualties,” ISAF continued.
The attack took place in the Sayyidabad district in Wardak province, according to Pajhwok Afghan News. In total, five people were killed and four more were wounded, according to the news agency. It is unclear if the other three people killed were Afghan soldiers, or if the soldier or soldiers who opened fire on the Coalition soldiers was killed or captured.
ISAF did not identify the nationality of the Western soldier or the civilian contractor. The US Army is known to operate in Wardak province.
The Sayyidabad district was the scene of several high-profile attacks by the Taliban and allied groups during the summer of 2011. In the most deadly attack, the Taliban shot down a US Army Chinook helicopter in Sayyidabad on Aug. 6, 2011. Thirty-eight US and Afghan troops, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, were killed in the crash.
Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Haqqani Network are all known to operate in Wardak province. The presence of foreign terror cells has been detected in the districts of Maidan Shah, Sayyidabad, and Tarnek Wa Jaldak, or three of the province’s eight districts, according to ISAF press releases that have been compiled by The Long War Journal.
Background on green-on-blue attacks
The attack is the latest in the long string of so-called green-on-blue incidents, or insider attacks, in which Afghan security personnel have killed or wounded members of the International Security Assistance Force. There have been 60 such attacks reported since 2008.
Attacks by Afghan forces on Coalition forces have skyrocketed this year. In the first eight months of this year, the number of green-on-blue attacks (33) has more than doubled last year’s total of 15. Fifty-three soldiers and ISAF personnel have been killed so far in these attacks this year.
Attacks that resulted in deaths of ISAF troops have also surged; they account for more than 15% of Coalition casualties so far this year. In 2011, green-on-blue attacks accounted for 6%; in 2010, 3%; in 2009, 2%; and in 2008, less than 1%. [For more details and statistics on the green-on-blue attacks, see LWJ Special Report, Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan: the data.]
ISAF commanders have insisted that most of the attacks are due to cultural differences between Afghan and Western troops. General John Allen, the commander of ISAF, even blamed the spike on Afghans being hungry and irritable due to fasting during Ramadan.
In seeking to account for the rise in insider attacks, ISAF commanders have downplayed the role of Taliban infiltration. Commanders have issued conflicting estimates of the percentage of attacks caused by Taliban infiltration and coercion, ranging from 10% to 25% in recent weeks, to 50% earlier this year.
The US military has become so concerned with the green-on-blue attacks that it has ordered units to designate “guardian angels” in each unit whose job is to provide security for troops working with Afghans. In mid-August, field commanders were told they can increase the number of “guardian angels” depending on the tactical situation.
After three green-on-blue attacks killed six ISAF troops on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16, the US and NATO suspended joint combat operations with Afghan forces at the battalion level and below. The ISAF began to lift the restrictions two days ago, on Sept. 28.
The surge in green-on-blue attacks has prompted the US military to expand its counterintelligence capability in Afghanistan at the battalion level and above. In addition, ISAF commander John Allen has recently directed all US and NATO troops to carry a loaded weapon at all time. Other measures being taken include the adoption of an eight-step vetting process for recruits and revised NATO training requirements. Also, Special Operations Command suspended the training of more than 1,000 Afghan Local Police, a village force that is seen as vital to securing Afghanistan as Coalition forces continue to withdraw.
The Taliban have seized on the green-on-blue attacks in their propaganda, and routinely claim each attack to be a result of infiltration. In early August, the Taliban released a video of two Afghan soldiers who attacked ISAF soldiers in Kunar and Uruzgan [see Threat Matrix report, Observations on Taliban video ‘welcoming’ rogue ANA soldiers].
Mullah Omar, the leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, or the Taliban, addressed the issue of green-on-blue attacks in a statement released on Aug. 16. Omar claimed that the Taliban “cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy according to the plan given to them last year,” and urged government officials and security personnel to defect and join the Taliban as a matter of religious duty. He also noted that the Taliban have created the “Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration” department, “with branches … now operational all over the country,” to encourage defections. [See Threat Matrix report, Mullah Omar addresses green-on-blue attacks.]
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.