Washington, DC – In December 2009, our commander in chief went to West Point and proclaimed that he would withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014. Since then, he has proudly emphasized that “We are on a course to end this war responsibly.” Now U.S. and NATO troops and loyal Afghan soldiers and police officers are reaping the bitter harvest of the seeds that Barack Obama planted with those words.
Over the last 10 days, in six separate incidents, nine American military personnel have been killed in what used to be called “green on blue attacks” – where Afghan soldiers or police have assaulted their U.S. and NATO counterparts. Thus far this year, 39 coalition troops and civilians have been killed in 30 incidents of what the Pentagon now calls “insider attacks.” According to figures released by the NATO command in Kabul, there were 11 such events in all last year, resulting in 20 deaths.
Until now, the Pentagon and NATO command in Kabul have maintained that these “sporadic incidents” were usually the consequence of “personal grievances” and “related to people getting into arguments.” In March, after an insider attack that killed two British commandos, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the assaults by individuals wearing Afghan police or military uniforms weren’t part of “any kind of broad pattern of activity.” That perception has been altered by events on the ground in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, following two attacks perpetrated by Afghan nationals that resulted in six Marines killed and two wounded, U.S. Marine Commandant General James Amos took the unusual step of issuing guidance to all U.S. Marine leaders. General Amos, it should be recalled by my media colleagues, co-authored the “Counterinsurgency Manual” with General David Petraeus; it was used as the guidebook for the fight in Afghanistan. In his letter dated 14 August 2012, General Amos notes that the recent assaults “were carefully crafted to drive a wedge between us and our Afghan partners.” Importantly, he also warned his Marines: “More of these types of spectacular attacks can be expected…”
A day after the Amos message went out, Secretary Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged at least partial reality in a Pentagon press conference. They now say the Taliban is “resorting to these kinds of attacks to create havoc.” But in that same press conference, Panetta, perhaps forgetting this is not a conventional war, claimed that “the Taliban has not been able to regain any territory lost…”
During the Q and A with reporters, General Dempsey announced new measures to ameliorate the threat: the formation of a Joint Casualty Assessment Team (JCAT) to evaluate every aspect of each attack, increased counterintelligence “expertise” and a “conference” of “one-stars and above” to develop “thoughts about what more we might do.”
Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s fixes won’t fix the problem of increasing insider attacks. We currently have 84,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan. The Obama administration insists on dropping that number to 68,000 before the presidential election in November – while simultaneously growing Afghan National Security Forces from 332,000 to more than 350,000. That’s mission impossible.
The JCAT idea might have been a good one back in 2007, when NATO first began to tally insider attacks. Any study the JCAT produces now will be good for the history books but unlikely to stop the carnage over the next 12 months.
Improved intelligence on those entering, and counterintelligence about those already in the Afghan police and military services, would be a great idea. But institutional arrogance in U.S. intelligence agencies mandates a reliance on signals intelligence, SIGINT, not human intelligence, HUMINT, that would actually be effective in screening out and detecting Taliban infiltrators.
And if the Pentagon brass want to know what needs to be done to mitigate the risk of these attacks, they ought to forget about a conference of generals and solicit ideas from the lieutenants and captains in the field who are living, fighting and dying beside loyal Afghan counterparts.
Finally, in what can only be a total lack of situational awareness, there is Secretary Panetta’s assessment that insider attacks are designed to “create havoc,” and his comment that success is measured by keeping the Taliban from regaining “any territory lost.”
The radical Islamists in Afghan police and military garb who kill Americans don’t care about territory. And havoc is simply a subsidiary effect – collateral damage – of an insider attack. The perpetrators of these assaults on American and NATO personnel have but one goal: killing an infidel. That’s what happened to another U.S. Marine and a Navy corpsman as this column was being written.
Obama planted the seeds for all this when he publicly announced a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. His deadline is fertile ground for jihadis who know that their “window of opportunity” for murder is closing. We should expect the bitter harvest of “green on blue attacks” to produce a bumper crop of American casualties – unless we hire a new commander in chief who knows how to fight a war and win.