Archive for April 20, 2011
And Know Your Friend
Recent attacks on coalition forces by rogue Afghan soldiers – or terrorists disguised as soldiers – has not destroyed the trust between NATO trainers and the Afghan troops they’re training, insists the U.S. Army general in charge of the program.
“We remain confident in our Afghan partners,” says Major Gen. Gary Patton, noting the motto of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) is “shoulder to shoulder.”
Even after an Afghan sergeant turned on his trainers and fellow Afghan soldiers at a training range near Mazar-e Sharif last July, “we resumed training the very next day as a sign of solidarity and because we retain confidence in our Afghan partners.”
Patton, who is winding down an 18-month assignment as the Army’s deputy commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, spoke with defense bloggers in a teleconference from Kabul Tuesday (April 19).
Despite Patton’s assurances that coalition and Afghan commanders were taking steps to vet Afghan recruits to weed out potential attackers, news reports from Afghanistan in recent years have indicated coalition troops are wary of the recruits they’re training and even of trained Afghan soldiers they jointly patrol with.
The murder of five NATO soldiers Saturday (April 16) at a forward operating base in Laghman Province by a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan Army uniform is just the latest in a series of attacks. on coalition forces. Since January, 13 International Security Assistance Force soldiers have been killed by infiltrators in disguise or Afghan soldiers going rogue for whatever reason, according to Stars and Stripes. There have been 38 killings under similar circumstance since 2009, the newspaper reported.
Stars and Stripes and other news outlets report there is disagreement among officials whether the attacks are primarily by infiltrators — as the Taliban claims — or simply due to cultural and communications clashes between Afghans and their trainers.
4GWAR asked Patton during the bloggers roundtable if officials had a clear idea of whether the attackers were actual Afghan soldiers or impersonators in uniforms which are said to be easily obtained in Afghan shops.
“I think what you see is really a combination,” the general replied. He added that he has discussed the problem several times with the chief of the Afghan Army’s general staff, as well as the defense minister. “They take it very seriously,” Patton says.
The defense minister has issued a directive declaring it is the duty of every Afghan soldier to be a sensor, to watch for comrades that start acting differently or out of character, say, after a trip to their home village. They are also being directed to keep watch on people in uniform they don’t know who don’t look right: wearing the wrong unit patch on their uniform or the wrong insignia for their rank or showing an identification card that doesn’t look right.
Patton said that the Afghans have developed an eight-step vetting process of new recruits that includes a letter from the elders in their home village verifying their identity and character. New recruits are also undergo medical screening and drug testing. Afghan officials have begun collecting biometric data such as retinal scans to keep in an identification database.
He added that 220 Afghan soldiers have been trained in in counterintelligence methods to uncover Taliban infiltrators or disgruntled soldiers who might snap and fire on their comrades or coalition trainers. NTM-A plans to boost that number to more than 400 watchers by the end of the year.