By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2012 – The closer their relationship is with their Afghan security force partners, the safer coalition forces are from “insider attacks,” the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said today.
Speaking with Pentagon reporters from Kabul, Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen said he does not believe pulling troops away from their Afghan partners is the best way to go about preventing such attacks.
“At this particular moment, I don’t believe that we need to contemplate reducing our contact with the Afghans,” he said. “What we have learned is that the closer the relationship with them -- indeed, the more we can foster a relationship of brotherhood -- the more secure that we are.”
Earlier this week, a senior military official said 22 of 32 attacks this year by assailants wearing Afghan military or police uniforms have resulted in deaths. In all, 40 coalition personnel had been killed and 69 others were wounded in the attacks. Over the same period in 2011, the official added, 16 attacks resulted in 28 deaths and 43 wounded.
Allen said there isn’t enough data on the attackers to “make any kind of a definitive conclusion” about why they happen. “We think the reasons for these attacks are complex,” he said. “Some of them, we do believe, are about infiltration, impersonation [or] coercion. “But some of them are about disagreements -- animosity which may have grown between the individual shooter and our forces in general, or a particular grievance. So we look at each one separately.”
The general said ISAF officials are trying to understand each particular case to determine why the attacks may have occurred. Religious fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan could be a factor in some attacks, he added. “It’s a very tough time for these forces. And in particular, this year, Ramadan … fell in the middle of the fighting season during some of the harshest times for the climate in much of the region in which we fight,” he said.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the pillars of Islam. During the month, from dawn until sunset, Muslims traditionally refrain from eating, drinking and other activities, breaking the fast each evening with family and friends at a dinner called an iftar.
The daily pressures on some of the Afghan troops, compounded by the sacrifice associated with fasting and the nature of the operational tempo may have contributed to a rise in attacks in the last several weeks, Allen said. “There are many different and complex reasons for why we think this may have increased. We think Ramadan was a part of it. We don’t think Ramadan was the principal reason, though,” but added that officials have taken steps to minimize Ramadan-related stress. “We were very careful, actually, during Ramadan this year to undertake operations during those times that would not place great physical strain on the troops – their troops as well as ours – given the partnership requirement,” he explained.
Officials now will look back on Ramadan to see what they can learn, Allen said. “We’re going to look back hard upon our operational tempo, the relationship of our security force assistance teams with the Afghans, and see if there are any conclusions that we can learn,” he said. “I don’t think, at this juncture, that we should pull back.”
The general also acknowledged a “Taliban influence” that takes several forms, including infiltration of the Afghan forces, as a factor in the attacks.
Allen re-emphasized his belief that reducing interaction with Afghan forces would not create the desired effect of building partnership.
“In fact, as I said, the closer the relationship, the more secure, ultimately, our troops will be,” he said. “Now what we have to do is ensure that we, together – the Afghans and the coalition forces – undertake the kinds of protective measures which we’ve been undertaking for some time.”
Allen also said while not diminishing the importance of the insider threat, such attacks represent only a fraction of the interactions between ISAF and Afghan forces.
“It’s important to understand that while every one of these is a tragedy, … every single day in this battle space there are tens of thousands of interactions of our general purpose forces, our special operations forces and our advisory forces with the Afghans,” he said. “And in a vast, vast majority of those instances, the result of that interaction is a growing friendship and a deeper relationship, and that’s playing out in greater success in the battle space.”
Allen lauded the leadership of ISAF and Afghan troops who have reacted with “stalwart” commitment to the mission in spite of insider attacks.
“We’re blessed, in the U.S. military … with magnificent small-unit leaders,” he said. “This is a tough mission, [but] these troops are very well led. It’s going to be leadership that gets us through it.”
(Jim Garamone and Cheryl Pellerin of American Forces Press Service contributed to this report.)