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Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
Editorials

The scourge of Afghan 'insider' killings

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American and NATO troops in Afghanistan have been asked to train the Afghan troops so they're capable of defending their own country from the ravages of the Taliban.

Achieving that goal has been undermined by the ability of the Taliban and its Afghan sympathizers to turn their weapons on their trainers in what are commonly called "insider" killings.

This kind of a danger has seldom been encountered in previous military conflicts. Soldiers appearing to be loyal allies have suddenly pulled out their weapons and aimed them at unsuspecting American or NATO troops standing right next to them.

The Tribune's Howard Altman, who recently toured Afghanistan, last Sunday vividly chronicled the potential dangers that confront American troops each time they meet with the Afghan Local Police leaders, who will be entrusted to protect their country once American forces leave.

Our troops face many complications in transitioning oversight to the Afghans, and the "insider killings" is one of the most acute.

Britain's BBC radio reporters investigating this phenomenon discovered that a disproportionate number of the soldiers who commit these insider shootings come from two remote Afghan districts close to the Pakistan border.

"These are areas where Taliban militants wield influence over local populations and the writ of central government is weak," the BBC reported. "Many of the cases involved fake recruitment files." The report added that Afghan intelligence officials often fear being confronted by rogue soldiers whose recruitment files have serious flaws.

"For example, in February 2012, police officer Abdul Saboor turned his guns on two NATO officials in the country's interior ministry," the BBC report continued. "An investigation revealed he had already been sacked (fired) twice by the police but gained re-entry into the force."

One Afghan local police commander, a former Taliban fighter, told the BBC that "two years ago [in 2010] there was a decision taken by Taliban leadership to focus more on infiltration and rogue soldiers instead of suicide attacks, and other attacks."

But, the BBC report continued, the motivation for many of the insider assaults cannot be explained quite so precisely. Many analysts, it said, believe the shootings may arise from underlying or even subconscious resentments that occasionally flare up - with deadly consequences.

Some of these resentments may reflect major cultural differences. Many of Afghanistan's security personnel are from deeply conservative and rural areas where certain codes of conduct are taken with great seriousness and can be casually - but innocently - violated by foreign troops who haven't been taught about the local moral code. Swearing is a good example.

"Profanity is seen as deeply insulting, even though it may be used casually and even humorously by Western soldiers," the BBC report noted. Also, American soldiers often are accused of arrogance and a superior manner that angers the Afghans.

"Quite often foreign forces have no idea they have just insulted their colleagues," the report continued.

But the larger concerns, the ones that trigger the deeper resentments with the more serious consequences, include nighttime raids and especially raids on the homes of suspected fighters. Although these raids may be considered ordinary and necessary military operations by Westerners, Afghans believe deeply the home is a sanctuary and the raids stir bitter resentments.

A BBC reporter said that one rogue soldier he interviewed (after he had slain three British soldiers) explained he had seen coalition troops kill a young girl. "Was she a Taliban? They didn't even know her name," he said.

Afghans and Westerners grew up miles apart, culturally, and working alongside each other remains a huge challenge that has vastly complicated this war, jeopardized our troops and put Afghanistan's future in question.

And when this long war ends next year, it's a safe bet the Taliban will still be there.

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