‘Green-on-Blue’ Killings Expose The Extent of America’s Failure in Afghanistan
There’s an inherent irony in the Americans coming under attack from the very forces they trained to protect themselves.
PKKH Exclusive | Dan Qayyum
ISLAMABAD – Green on blue attacks in Afghanistan are taking a heavy toll on the morale of the US forces. On Monday in the latest such attack, a member of the Afghan National Army (ANA) opened fire on ISAF forces, killing two ISAF soldiers in Laghman province. The week before, an Afghan policeman opened fire on NATO troops killing one and wounding half a dozen soldiers before escaping unharmed.
This year there have so far been 28 ‘Green on blue’ attacks killing over 40 US or NATO soldiers and wounding up to 5 times as many – more than the entire previous 10 years of the conflict combined. The last ten of them were killed this month alone.
The term ‘Green on Blue’ stems from NATO symbolism which uses blue to identify ‘friendly’ forces, red for ‘enemy’ and green to identify ‘neutral’ forces.
The most commonly presented explanation is that the Afghans are increasingly distrustful of the Americans, and are outraged by the blatant disregard shown by the Americans to the Afghan cultural and religious sentiments, as seen during the Quran burning episode as well as when a number of American soldiers were filmed urinating on dead Afghans. Throw into the mix the deadly air-raids killing civilians in wedding parties and gun-toting drunk US soldiers on rampage in villages shooting dead and setting fire to women and children as they lay asleep – and it seems enough to incite any self-respecting Afghan policeman or soldier to pick up the nearest available weapon and turn on their American counterparts.
While there may be a lot of truth to this explanation, it would be doing a disservice to America and NATO’s adversaries by not directing some of the credit their way.
US atrocities in Afghanistan are nothing new. Even by the most conservative estimates, 11,864 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan between 2007 – when the United Nations began reporting statistics – until the end of 2011. A large number of these casualties have been inflicted directly by US and NATO military actions.
Some notable incidents include the 2008 Azizabad airstrike killing 92 civilians, mostly children in the village of Azizabad, located in the Shindand district – the 2009 Granai airstrike resulting in the deaths of nearly 145 civilians, mainly women and children in the village of Granai in Farah Province, Herat, and the 2009 Kunduz airstrike where US jets, responding to a call by German forces, struck two fuel tankers captured by Taliban militants, killing over 90 civilians. These are aside from the hundreds of incidents where civilians were shot dead at checkpoints on suspicion or during house-to-house nightly raids.
The particularly gruesome Granai air strike that resulted in the deaths of 145 civilians, with around 93 of them children and 30 women, is the ‘highest civilian death toll from Western military action since foreign forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001′, as reported by The Australian. A US probe first said that around 20-30 civilians were killed along with 60-65 insurgents, and later stated that ‘no one will ever be able conclusively to determine the number of civilian casualties that occurred’, and brushed it under the carpet to the outrage of Afghan civilians and government alike. Afghan forces however did not turn on the Americans as a result.
Thirty-one green-on-blue attacks have occurred in Afghanistan since 1 January 2012 resulting in the death of 43 soldiers. Of the 31 attacks, 16 have been attributed to members of the Afghan National Army and 15 have been attributed to the Afghan National Police. These violent attacks have claimed the lives of 43 ISAF soldiers and continue to pose one of the greatest threats against soldiers in Afghanistan. Statistic from ISVG.org
Some may point to the 2012 Quran burning incident as the definitive event that turned the tide. However, that would only be partially true; as there is a precedent in the 2005 incident where US prison guards had deliberately desecrated copies of the Quran by flushing them down the toilet. That incident triggered massive protests all over the Islamic world, the ones in Afghanistan being the most violent and resulting in many deaths – incidentally none of which were ‘Green on Blue’.
While the desecration and burning of copies of the Quran are incidents deemed offensive enough to merit retaliatory attacks, it is unwise to ignore the careful planning and strategy that has resulted in sowing seeds of such distrust between the ISAF and ANA soldiers that segregation at military bases is now the norm in Afghanistan between supposed allies. Afghan soldiers are kept separated by thick, high walls with barbed wires on top, have to hand over all weapons when off duty and are not allowed to cross over to the ISAF side unless it is a medical emergency.
There is of course a historical precedent.
The French army employed a large chunk of Algerian Muslims in their regular armies during the late 1950s. The militias, which were evenly spread out all over Algeria, in the 75 military sectors, participated in various operations and directly supported the French Army. The Front de Libération Nationale (FLN, National Liberation Front) which at the time fought for Algeria’s freedom from French rule, successfully embedded hundreds of its double agents into the Force K – an indigenous counter-insurgency group in Kabylie set up by the French. The FLN double agents in Force K garb not only attacked and killed other Force K soldiers (Green on Green) and French officers (Green on Blue) but also gained invaluable funds, training and weapons before defecting back to FLN in October 1956 – which can be compared to the regular defection of ANA soldiers and Afghan Policemen to the Taliban in recent year, taking with them modern weapons and advanced training and counter-insurgency knowledge – courtesy of the US taxpayer.
As the Americans try to cut their losses and look for ways for a face-saving exit, many leading experts, think tanks and military analysts have predicted the 200,000 Afghan Army to simply vanish once the US withdraws from Afghanistan, in face of a hostile Taliban takeover. The figure is suspected to include a large number of former Taliban militants or those with Taliban sympathies – who will defect to and strengthen the Taliban, while others would prefer to melt away in the villages and towns to avoid confrontation with the Taliban forces. The US forces that remain behind to ’support’ the Karzai government will only prove to be sitting ducks to a stronger, bolder Taliban forces which will then have US-trained ex-ANA soldiers in its midst.
A decade after invading Afghanistan with promises of peace, stability and prosperity, the Americans are now preparing to run with their tails between their legs. US President Barack Obama and the US Military officials can make tall claims about achieving their goals in Afghanistan all they want, the reality is that they can no longer guarantee the safety of their own forces in their fortified bases, let alone deliver results on the battlefield.
The goal to establish a competent, democratic government has fallen flat with widespread corruption and misgovernance increasing by the day. The goal to create and train a force that can handle internal and external threats to the failed democratic government is in tatters too, as the US and NATO forces are being hunted and killed by the same force they created to protect themselves. Every major goal and target has suffered a humiliating failure because of the arrogance of US military planners believing they could bomb countries into submission. They not only failed to take key stake holders onboard, but went as far as engaging in mindless conflicts with Afghanistan’s neighbours. While the elected leaders bungled diplomatically, the CIA estranged its only valuable allies in the region by running covert espionage networks and attempting to destabilize governments and countries in order to win compliance.
Bringing India onboard was perhaps the single biggest folly of the US administration as it alienated Pakistan’s military leadership and set in course a series of actions that resulted in limiting, even reversing Pakistan’s cooperation in Afghanistan – which in turn has led to this humiliating defeat.
Pakistan’s military has not forgotten or forgiven India’s role in supporting the 1971 insurgency in Bangladesh that lead to events resulting in the secession of Bangladesh, as well as the Indian involvement in supporting terrorism in Baluchistan which was first initiated during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and was brought back from dead during the American occupation of same country.
The Americans would be well advised to revisit the events of October 3rd, 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia, where US soldiers lay under-siege, 18 of them dead in the firefight with Somali militia fighters after a bungled attempt to kill Mohamed Farrah Aidid. With 18 of their soldiers dead and the Somalian militias about to set the rest on fire, it was Pakistani forces that went in with tanks and armored personnel carriers and rescued the remaining American soldiers.
Pakistan not only shares a border with Afghanistan, but also shares heritage, culture, religion with Afghanistan. Before the US invasion, Afghan landline telephone subscribers were connected to Pakistan telephone exchanges. Pakistani rupee has been the accepted currency. Pakistan contains a large chunk of the Pashtun heartland, the ethnic group that makes up around 70 percent of Afghanistan’s population. Pakistan’s army remains the only hope for the US for a face-saving exit. If this realization has not dawned on them, then the US mission in Afghanistan will go down as one of the biggest military disasters in the history of modern warfare, where a nation with unparalleled resources and military might, will be systematically pulled apart and buried in the unforgiving hills and plains of Afghanistan.
Dan Qayyum is an editor and analyst at PKKH.tv – writing on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Dan also writes for the defense and security journal Fortress Magazine, published out of Karachi, Pakistan, and is a senior research fellow at the Pakistan Institute of Strategic Affairs.