So-called “Green on Blue” violence (Afghan partners turning on the US military) has been a concern across Afghanistan lately. Since the start of the war, you’d read the an article here or there about an insurgent who had infiltrated the police or Afghan Army. Lately, however, it’s escalated, and started to have real consequences. Earlier this year, the Army announced to the public its Guardian Angel Program. While it does a number of things, it’s clearly designed to protect against Afghans turning on Coalition Forces. The most visible examples are the Soldiers that we see guarding the Gym, the Dining Facility, and other facilities.
It’s started to have effects on larger policy too. France, one of our coalition partners in Afghanistan, decided to speed up their withdrawal from Afghanistan as a reaction to the increasing lack of trust they have for the Afghan soldiers they oversee. The move came less than a week after an Afghan soldier killed four unarmed French troops. This of course was around the same time two American officers working in one of the Afghan ministries were shot in the head, most likely as a reaction to Bagram Airfield burning a bunch of Korans.
So what causes all this anger? Unfortunately, the actions of the few can grossly outweigh the work of many. Here’s a quick Top 5 of those individuals or incidents that have most damaged our relationship with the Afghan people. I’d like to personally thank these people (numbering in the double-digits at most) who have made life more difficult for the other 100,000 plus troops in Afghanistan.
1) SSG Robert Bales – Anyone who follows the news knows who this man is. He is currently awaiting trial for leaving his Forward Operating Base in the middle of the night and murdering 17 Afghani villagers in their sleep. The military hasn’t actually executed anyone in half a century (though it does put people on death row). The president himself has to sign a writ of execution. However, some people wonder whether this or the Fort Hood shooting from a few years ago will be the case that puts an end to that.
2) Bagram Airfield – Once again, an incident anyone who reads the paper will have heard about. For those who don’t recall, officials at Bagram Airfield decided to dispose of several Korans, because they were allegedly being used by prisoners to convey extremist communications. After being in Afghanistan (and Iraq) for 11 years, and accommodating the religious needs of their prisoners (and apparently not remembering that time when there were riots all over the world because a pastor in Florida decided to burn a Koran), they burned a bunch of Korans. Needless to say, conservative muslims were not pleased, and rioted all over the country, resulting in several deaths of coalition forces and severely souring relationships with the locals. Most locals considered this worse than the SSG Bales spree. It’ s one thing for a lone nut to do something, it’s another for an administration to make a cold, calculated decision.
3) 3d Battalion, 2d Marine – Several marines decided to piss on a bunch of Afghan corpses. Naturally, the video clips somehow found their way from personal cameras and cell phones to insurgent propaganda videos, and are now easily found on the internet. Word of this got out real fast to Afghanis, despite a general lack of YouTube in the country.
4) Bagram Torture and Homicide – This one’s a little older, but way back when, several Soldiers in Bagram chained two prisoners to the ceiling and beat them, ultimately killing them. This would predate the infinitely more publicized Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.
5) Afghan Wedding Incident – There have been a few of these, but in this particular case a few years ago, a couple of our fighter jetss were engaging militants on the ground when an errant missile hit people traveling to a wedding, killing 47 civilians, 39 of which were women and children. This is unfortunate, but in war these things do occasionally happen. However, matters are made worse when individuals involved initially try to cover it up and claim there were no civilian casualties. That only amplified the fury.
Although it’s a topic large enough for another day, our primary purpose in Afghanistan is supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the locals. Unfortunately, actions like this can set back years of hard work by thousands of other troops. This ultimately leaves us with literally no margin for error.