By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Coalition forces and Afghan government leaders are attacking the issue of insider threats in Afghanistan on several levels, a top commander in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said today.
Army Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of ISAF Joint Command, spoke with Pentagon reporters via satellite from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Insider attacks, which have cost 45 ISAF lives so far this year, occur when an Afghan soldier or policeman, or an enemy impersonating one, deliberately kills or injures a coalition member. Terry told reporters the degree of insurgent involvement in such attacks varies.
“I sense these actions are driven by fear of an increasingly stronger and more capable Afghan national security force … [as the] insurgency is continuously degraded and discredited,” the general said.
Afghanistan’s army and police forces and the nation’s leaders, from President Hamid Karzai through the Interior and Defense ministries and down to provincial and district governor levels, are “seized by” the issue and committed to stopping it, Terry said.
Terry offered his condolences to the families of those who have been killed in the attacks. “We will never let them be forgotten,” said.
The general said the rise in attacks over the summer may reflect the adaptive nature of an enemy whose bombing, assassination and intimidation campaigns are turning Afghanistan’s people against the insurgency. “The reality is we're going to face this,” he said.
An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman announced today that hundreds of Afghan soldiers have been detained or removed from service. Terry said while he has not yet heard the particulars about those actions, the Afghan Interior and Defense ministries seek to limit insider attacks by examining their recruiting procedures and looking for ways to vet possible recruits more closely.
He noted the coalition is helping in the effort, analyzing data on past insider attacks to determine trends and identify threat factors. With that information, plus the ministries’ findings, “we can better focus our vetting and screening efforts,” the general said. “In other words, go back in and look at specific populations that we think are at risk.”
The eight-step vetting process for recruits includes background and criminal checks, medical and drug screening, interviews and references, Terry said. The Afghan ministries are examining those processes to ensure they’re as secure and verifiable as possible, he added.
“In addition to that, they're looking at increased efforts to improve the living conditions for their soldiers,” the general noted, “and also how they prepare their soldiers for leave periods, and then specifically how they address those soldiers once they return from leave.”
Terry said his own Army experience tells him soldiers are most vulnerable to outside influence when they’re away from their units, and he suggested Afghan military leaders consider leave periods as critical for their attention.
Another initiative, he said, is a counterintelligence program that places people trained in countering insider attacks “inside of the formations, so that we can identify some of this threat before it actually materializes out there.”
Terry said some 25 percent of insider attacks since 2007 have involved either direct enemy planning or insurgent support to an attacker. Some of the remaining attacks are personally motivated by things such as perceived insults, he added, noting the overall issue features some cultural factors coalition leaders also are examining.
“I would just say that what we all recognize is that this is society that's really been traumatized by 30-plus years of war,” Terry said. “It also has a gun culture.”
In Afghan culture, resolving grievances and disputes often involves “the barrel of a gun,” he said.
“As we look toward cultural sensitivity … and greater understanding of the culture and of the religion, I think we also have to understand what this country and what this population [have] gone through over time,” Terry said.
Because of cultural attitudes toward social factors such as friendship and hospitality, Terry said, “I fundamentally believe, … and this is based on my experience of three tours over here, … that [the] closer you are in terms of relationship and friendship with the Afghan partners, probably the safer you are.”
Within their own ranks, ISAF forces are emphasizing cultural sensitivity training and building relationships with Afghan partner forces, Terry said.
Meanwhile, Afghan units are gaining strength and capability, he said, noting Afghanistan’s army and police forces are getting close to 350,000 people fielded.
“I don't, frankly, see that slowing down,” he said.