From the January-February 2013 issue of News & Letters:
Why ‘green on blue’ attacks?
London, England—Richard Walker was described by family as a “proud, patriotic man.” No doubt believing Britain’s role in Afghanistan as vital to the curtailment of terrorism, Walker deployed to the war-torn country as part of the 28 Engineer Regiment. His death on Jan. 7 in the latest shootout between Coalition forces and a rogue Afghan Army soldier points, however, to increasing resistance to NATO’s ongoing presence.
So-called “green on blue” attacks involving Afghan state forces turning on their NATO allies accounted for a full 25% of British casualties in 2012 alone. Whilst the Taliban claim responsibility for the majority, this latest assault was carried out by a soldier with no apparent ties to the insurgent fighting force.
Some analysts have pointed to cultural and religious differences between Afghan soldiers and their Coalition counterparts as fueling the phenomena of Afghan soldiers, with no ties to the Taliban, firing on Western troops. According to NATO officers, around 90% of insider attacks are directly due to cultural friction, which is partly behind the decision of the Afghan National Army to supply a brochure to its troops on how to deal with their NATO counterparts. This brochure, whilst seemingly aimed at stimulating tolerance in the ranks, borders on the surreal, for example, warning recruits that Western soldiers have a habit of blowing their noses as a matter of routine and that such a habit should not be considered “an offence or insult.”
Considering that such attacks have increased the longer NATO troops remain in Afghanistan, it’s been suggested that many Afghans are simply reacting violently to continued foreign interference, as opposed to any onset of cultural intolerance or desire to see the Taliban return to power.
According to sources inside Afghanistan, the brutality of Western troops in their dealings with the native population is itself a cause for violence. The continuation of night raids aimed at uncovering Taliban sympathizers and members, has led to a great many civilians being accosted, abused and sometimes killed in their own homes. According to one source, over 1,500 Afghans were killed during such raids in a ten month period between 2010-2011.
Human rights organizations have also pointed to NATO’s inability to curtail civilian casualties. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2010, Coalition authorities have refused to publicly acknowledge a rising number of non-combatant deaths. In one incident involving an air strike in Herat province, U.S. commanders persistently ignored third party investigations, including one by the Afghan government, pointing to a drastically greater number of civilian deaths than originally admitted. An initial U.S. estimate claimed that five to seven civilian fatalities had been caused; the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission claimed the figure was more likely 70 to 90.
In a similar incident in Farah province in 2009 the U.S. military dismissed UN claims that an air and ground attack had killed roughly 80 civilians, downplaying the number of casualties. It was only weeks later, under mounting pressure from civilian institutions, that the military admitted that around 26 civilians had in fact been killed.
Changes in the operational guidelines of NATO forces, initially welcomed by HRW, failed to halt the toll on civilian life. Over 1,500 Afghans, many of them non-combatants, were killed in 2010 and 2011 in night raids. There was a corresponding rise in green on blue assaults: 16 for 2011 and 44 for 2012. In 2009-2010 five similar attacks took place, up from just two in 2008, which suggests a definite link between civilian casualties and attacks on NATO troops.
Whilst elements of the bourgeois media have a tendency to present the conflict as a clash of good against evil, with brave western soldiers facing off against a terrorist enemy, the truth appears more complex. Continuing civilian casualties, coupled with outrages such as the notorious “kill team” case of 2011—where a squad of U.S. soldiers was found to have habitually murdered native Afghans and taken body parts of the deceased as “trophies”—can only inflame further resentment. The death of Richard Walker, which has so shocked the British military establishment, is symptomatic of the continuing outrage felt by a population that has long been denied any opportunity to decide its own destiny.