Bloomberg News

Most Afghan Insider Attacks Aren’t Taliban, Pentagon Says

August 20, 2012

The “vast majority” of insider attacks by Afghan forces against U.S. and allied troops stem from “disgruntled individuals” and not Taliban insurgents, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

While coalition forces have improved vetting procedures for admitting Afghans into the country’s growing army, “it’s not always possible to read the minds of other people,” Little told reporters at a Pentagon briefing today.

Attacks from inside the Afghan security forces against coalition troops jumped to 10 this month, up from four in July and two in June, Lieutenant Colonel Hagen Messer, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, said today in a phone interview from Kabul. There have been 32 insider attacks this year that killed 40 coalition troops, he said.

“These insider attacks are a dagger in the heart of the U.S. mission,” David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said today in a statement. “They strike at the core strategy of training Afghan forces to replace our troops. If we cannot trust the troops we are recruiting, how can the mission succeed?”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the weekend “to share his concern about recent insider attacks” and to “explore ways to work even more closely together,” Little said. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with allied and Afghan commanders today in Kabul to discuss the war and the attacks.

‘False Distinction’

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington who has advised a number of U.S. administrations, said it is misleading and irrelevant to draw a distinction between insider attacks planned by the Taliban and those undertaken by Afghans influenced by the constant barrage of jihadist propaganda from the Taliban.

“It’s a false distinction,” Cordesman said today in a phone interview. “Most of the young men in Afghanistan are caught up in a climate where inevitably they’re going to hear insurgent complaints about the U.S. presence, calls for jihad.”

The U.S. has taken new steps to guard against the increasing insider attacks, including a greater “intelligence presence” in the field to gather information on potential threats, Panetta said in an Aug. 14 Pentagon briefing.

‘Guardian Angels’

The Pentagon also created a “guardian angel” program that designates one individual “who stands to the side so that he can watch people’s backs and hopefully identify people that would be involved in those attacks,” Panetta said.

Afghan security ministries have adopted more “rigorous vetting procedures” for Afghans seeking to join the security forces, Little said.

While most of the insider attacks come from “disgruntled” soldiers, the Taliban are increasingly using the tactic as they come under “severe strain” and “severe pressure” from coalition forces, Little said.

“They are opportunistic,” he said of the Taliban. “They look for ways of infiltrating Afghan forces. They regrettably are creative to some extent.”

Said Jawad, a former longtime Afghan ambassador to Washington, said he believes the attacks are the result of Taliban infiltration.

Creating Rift

“The most effective tactic by the Taliban is to create a rift between Afghan security forces and NATO forces,” he said.

Jawad, who has been mentioned as a possible next Afghan defense minister, said the rapid pace of expansion of the Afghan police and army means “there’s limited recruitment criteria,” making it easier for anti-American insurgents to “place their agents.”

Polls of Afghan public opinion he has seen show more positive attitudes toward the U.S. than exist in other Islamic countries in the region, Jawad said.

The Afghan security forces are expected to grow to 352,000 later this year, while coalition forces plan to withdraw combat troops by 2014.

The number of “green-on-blue,” or insider, attacks is still at a “relatively low level,” amounting to 40 deaths this year among about 130,000 coalition troops, Cordesman said. Still the attacks spawn fear and widespread media coverage that bolster the goal of insurgents.

“If all you have to do is create a green-on-blue incident, you achieve political impact out of any proportion,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Lerman in Washington at; Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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