Obama and David Cameron say we're making "progress" in the war. Does that include the sharp increase in the number of Afghan soldiers or policemen turning their weapons on western troops?
01 June 2011
Commanders of international troops in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly concerned at the growing number of attacks by members of local security forces on western forces or advisers.
The Taliban ordered insurgents to step up infiltration of the Afghan national army and police earlier this year, Nato officials believe, leading to an alarming rise in the number of "blue on green" attacks.
Increasing the numbers of local security forces is a key part of the coalition strategy to allow international combat troops to leave the country before the 2014 deadline set at the Lisbon conference last year.
Recent months have seen dozens of incidents – many unreported – of Afghan soldiers or policemen turning their weapons on western troops or facilitating attacks by insurgents.
The latest saw an Australian mentor killed by an Afghan soldier in Oruzgan province on Monday. Lance Corporal Andrew Gordon Jones, 25, was shot three times by a soldier, who then fled. A Taliban spokesman said the killer was a hero. "Every soldier who joins us is rewarded with medals and great honour," he said.
The Taliban regularly claim responsibility for attacks in which they had no immediate role. Intelligence officers said most are by "disgruntled guys".
One spark for violence may be widespread anger in Afghanistan at continuing civilian casualties caused by international troops. The most recent incident saw 14 civilians killed by an airstrike in the southern province of Helmand at the weekend. Reports suggest insurgents fled into a home after attacking US troops.
President Hamid Karzai said he would take "unilateral action" if the airstrikes did not stop, adding that Afghans would react as they have to previous occupying forces if attacks continued. Afghans are proud of their history of repelling invaders, including the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the British in the 19th century. Karzai has repeatedly made similar threats.
Data collected by the UN shows most civilian casualties in Afghanistan are from Taliban attacks, particularly suicide bombs and remote-controlled blasts.
Western officials fear a "rising trend" of attacks by Afghan soldiers and police on western forces, though they stress that the numbers involved are a small minority of Afghan security forces.
In the past 18 months Nato has recorded around 20 incidents in which Afghan soldiers or policemen have attacked international forces, killing more than 50.
Two Nato trainers were killed by a police officer in Helmand earlier this month. In April, a veteran Afghan air force major shot and killed eight US troops and an American contractor in Kabul. Other recent incidents include the shooting of two Americans during police training in the northern Faryab province and the killing of three Germans in the north of the country by an Afghan soldier.
In November last year six US troops were killed when an Afghan border police officer shot them. Three British soldiers were killed by a soldier last July. In November 2009 five British soldiers were shot dead by a "rogue" Afghan policeman in an attack at a police checkpoint.
Hanif Atmar, the former interior minister, said most incidents were the result of "cultural misunderstandings" between foreigners and the police or troops they were trying to train. "There is an Afghan way of doing things that sometimes they don't respect and that leads to angry outbursts and then shootings," he said.
In addition, there are frequent but much less often reported incidents of members of the Afghan security forces involved in attacks on fellow Afghans.
Two recent incidents – the killings of the police chief of Kandahar province on 15 April and of the police chief of northern Afghanistan last weekend – involved individuals wearing police uniforms. It is unclear whether they were serving officers or imposters, although Afghan officials said a senior police bodyguard was involved in the attack in Kandahar.
The Afghan army has almost doubled in size in three years to more than 164,000. The Afghan national police has grown from fewer than 95,000 in late 2009 to 126,000 today.
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