As of Friday, there were at least four attacks on US Troops by insurgents in Afghan uniforms, last week. There are no reliable records on how many "insider attacks" have occurred over the course of the war and the government has long attempted to downplay the significance of these attacks, but the number for ALL such attacks in 2007 was in single digits. In 2007 and 2008, they were referred to as "isolated incidents," and they were. In 2011 and 2012, they have been characterized as "lone wolf" attacks and they are not.
In one of the earliest attacks of this type, people asked me "how could this happen, why did this happen, what does it mean?" The first thing I pointed out was that the attacker was in an Afghan uniform, but as of time of the question, we didn't know if the individual had been part of the ANP or not. A later attack was conducted by an Afghan that was clearly a member of Afghan Security Forces.
The danger of these attacks, even then, especially then, was very clear, at least to me. A single such attack would erode the trust of Coalition Forces, and the Afghans they were training and mentoring. As suspicions towards Afghan Troops rose, individual Afghan Troops would feel slighted and disrespected by their International allies. As the common bond of Warriors and trust of allies broke down, effectiveness of the war would erode.
While Afghan culture does allow for minor slights to escalate into murderous retribution, this was not the most likely culprit, then or now. It might be the basis for a few of the attacks, but the culprit was far more likely to be infiltration of the enemy into Afghan Forces. A significant difference between then and now is that the government attempted to find out what happened then while the current Administration attempts to deny the reality that Afghan Forces have been infiltrated by the enemy, even when the attacker appears in Taliban videos.
Investigators have long understood that the most likely answer is usually the correct answer. The most likely answer is and continues to be that when Afghans attack Coalition Troops, while in an Afghan uniform, it is the enemy, in that uniform. While it is possible that an Afghan Policeman felt so disrespected by his allies that he decided to kill them, it is highly unlikely that this occurred more than 30 times this year and more than 4 times last week. It is even more unlikely that he had not joined the Taliban, only after he had killed US Marines.
Why would the enemy infiltrate the ANSF? It's textbook in guerilla warfare. First the enemy needs as much information as possible on Coalition operations. Secondly, these attacks erode the alliance, particularly if the Troops believe they are conducted by average Afghan Troops, rather than the enemy.
How did the enemy infiltrate the ANSF? In 2009 and later, moreso than in prior years, the International "strategy" was to rapidly increase the number of Afghan Troops. The "desired end state" was for the Afghan Forces to first take the lead, and then take complete responsibility for their war. It sounds good on paper. The problem is that the rapid expansion meant that everyone being dropped off on the Recruiting Center's doorstep was given a bunk and a uniform. There was no one "vetting" them. Mullah Omar's own son could have joined and no one would have known.
Many would say that "it would be impossible" to vett Afghan recruits anyway. Hogwash. It's been done in places just as challenging, if not moreso, than in Afghanistan. No, you can't google an Afghan's name and check his birth certificate or criminal record. That is a lazy man's excuse for why it can't be done in a remote, rural, illiterate location. No, to vett a recruit in Afghanistan, you have to physically send someone to the places he has lived. You're checking not only the individual but also assessing the person giving you information on him. And here, Afghan culture actually assists in vetting. Here, by holding the village elders responsible for the actions of their own, you increase the ties between remote villages and Afghan security, and increase the effectiveness of the vetting process.
So, why is the government denying that Afghan Security Forces have been infiltrated, and Our Troops are being killed by the enemy in Afghan uniforms? Because the current Administration is responsible for the new "strategy," the strategy that called for a rapid expansion of the ANSF. The current Administration wants to "end" the War in Afghanistan. For that, it needs public support. And support has swelled for an end to the war, even amongst detractors of the Administration, because of the "insider attacks."
While I can appreciate the call to "Fight to win, or bring them home," we didn't start this war. Before we decide whether or not to continue this fight, we must first remember why we went to Afghanistan to begin with (9/11). And having remembered why we went there, we must then ask if we leave now, will the situation of that time return, change, or improve.
To answer that question, one must look at the enemy. How many Americans remember who Mullah Omar is? Too many do not, but he is and always has been the leader of the Afghan Taliban. Has the Taliban changed its political ideology? Not at all. Has it changed its allies? Nope, they are still allied with the Haqqani Network and Al-Qaeda.
So, if the enemy has not changed, what has? Well, we have a different President now than we did then. The enemy has expanded. While Al-Qaeda was defeated in Iraq, it has strengthened in Yemen. Politically, Islamism has taken power in Tunisia & Egypt, and gained ground in Syria and Libya. While Somalia appears to be a stalemate, it has opened warfronts in Nigeria, Mali, and Kenya. And a reluctant ally, Pakistan, has grown closer to an age old enemy, Iran, in the last 3 years, while Karzai has been alienated by US politicians.
And while Al-Qaeda was defeated in Iraq, violence is increasing again there. Though it was a fledgling democracy in 2008, the current power struggle is between Iranian backed political parties and Al-Qaeda backed terrorists now. The largely non-Islamist people are stuck in the middle.
Wars are won by destroying the enemy's will to fight. Unfortunately, US Politicians have worked to erode the US will to fight, not the enemy's. As a result, the enemy is expanding and their resolve growing. If we want to win, we must renew our resolve, and we must remove those politicians that are undermining it. The problem is not Our Troops, but the leaders voters put in charge of them. The problem is not an undefeatable enemy, but rather an uninterested POTUS.
("Green" refers to color coding of forces on maps, where Blue are friendly forces, including allies, Red are enemy forces, and Green are neutral forces. As such, "Green on Blue" is a misnomer as Afghan Forces are allies (blue) and the Taliban/Haqqani are enemy (red).)