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‘Green-on-Blue’ Attacks in Afghanistan Ignite Fierce Debate Over NATO’s Continued Involvement

Posted on the 19 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan activity. Photo Credit: Flickr Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan activity. Photo Credit: Flickr


The background

This week, British soldiers Sergent Gareth Thursby and Private Thomas Wroe became the latest of 51 NATO troops to be killed in ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, the euphemism for Afghan troops who turn against their Western comrades. In response, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced the end of joint patrols between NATO and Afghan troops, a dispensation that has sparked debate over whether these attacks call for a retreat entirely, not merely a change in tactics.

Behind NATO’s controversial decision

Hammond acknowledged the blow to morale and public support, but claimed that this decision was a move to safeguard NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers: “I recognise, everybody in ISAF recognises, President Karzi recognises, that the incidents of insider attack are sapping public opinion, public morale, in the ISAF home countries. That is why we are determined to solve this problem.” Hammond went on to praise Britain’s deeper involvement with native forces, expressing pride that the British army “does do things differently from our larger American cousins…. We try to get closer to the people, we try to get lower down the command structures and we try to be more embedded.”

 Bad idea

MP John Baron denounced the decision, The Guardian reported, and said it “threatens to blow a hole in our stated exit strategy, which is heavily reliant on these joint operations continuing until Afghan forces are able to operate independently”. The Express claimed that that Philip Hammond “did not know in advance of orders to scrap joint operations with Afghan units below battalion level is deeply disquieting” and further proof that “the United States of America is alone in the driving seat when it comes to Western policy in Afghanistan and that the British political class is happy to spout whatever line belatedly reaches it from Washington.”

The War is over: we lost

For many, the escalating death toll as a result of insider attacks is proof that the situation in Afghanistan is unresolvable. The Daily Mails Max Hasting believes that the unstable regime and incessant resistance to Western aid is endemic to the region. He claimed that, for every loyal and moral Afghan soldier, “there are 20 Afghans who have put on government uniforms only for the money. They have spent their entire lives in a warlord society, where betrayal and corruption are endemic. Afghans are pragmatists: they back the people most likely to run the place in the future.” Hasting calls for a long-overdue realisation that the war in Afghanistan is lost, the lingering presence of NATO troops is a futile exercise causing the unnecessary sacrifice of Western forces: “The spectacle of politicians trying to preserve tatters of national dignity at the cost of lives is no less depressing because so many governments in history have followed the same path. We have lost in Afghanistan.” The Express pulled no punches when it declared: “Our brave forces deserve far better than this. The time to bring them home is right now.”

A retreat is not justifiable, say soldiers

Lt. Col Charlie Maconochie, who leads on training and working with the Afghan National Army in Helmand, spoke to The Telegraph regarding the latest ‘green-on-blue’ attacks. He stated that the majority of these attacks were the result of personal grievances, cultural disparities and psychological distress” and added: “There is simply no evidence of any widespread insurgent infiltration of the Afghan forces.” Maconochie stressed that “developing the closest possible relationship with the Afghan soldiers is at the core of mitigating these unavoidable risks” and that, cooperation is key to laying the foundations for a more secure nation. Former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, writing in The Times, claimed that the training provided by ISAF troops is vital: “[T]he more effective the Afghan security forces become, the more likely it is that Afghanistan will continue to be denied as a base for international terrorists. That means our soldiers’ boots on the ground, shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan allies.”

The Times agrees

The leading article of The Times declared that a retreat from Afghanistan is not justified, despite the growing number of insider attacks. In response to the latest change in joint patrols, the paper was keen to point out that: “More than a decade ago, Nato forces entered Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda a base from which to plot further terrorist assaults. Today the mission remains to leave Afghanistan as a country that can perform this function for itself… Changes in strategy on the ground may be imperative but a change in goal is no option at all.”


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