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August 30th, 2012, by Naveed Ahmad

Naveed Ahmad

By: Naveed Ahmad

While looking for good news in Afghanistan, one rarely meets triumph. The 2014 withdrawal deadline underscores the need for visible success stories

There may be occasional good news, but the most salient stories inevitably focus on shocking violence. For instance, three incidents of Afghans in uniform killing US servicemen in less than a week can’t escape our attention, bringing the death toll to 2,000.

The green-on-blue killings, as they’re widely termed in the western media, can be anything but isolated incidents. Had the official C-17 jet of General Martin Dempsey, a top US commander, not been hit by rockets fired from the vicinity of Bagram base, one could buy the logic of attacks resulting from personal grudges. Analysts are already blaming Afghan troops for the attack, or at least for leaking information on the general’s visit.

In the bloody and complex warzone that Afghanistan is, for a soldier to be killed in action is unfortunately routine, when it’s the handiwork of a declared foe. The fragility of over a decade-long relationship stands exposed when a trainee aims at his trainer, what the American press calls “insider killing”. Moreover, in the midst of the current presidential election, the Republicans will likely use this opportunity to drum up the fact that US taxpayers’ $20 billion were spent on training and equipping some 340,000 Afghan nationals to serve in military and security services.

In a desperate act of self-defence, each Nato troop has been ordered to carry a loaded firearm at all times, even at the base. Today’s commanders of foreign troops in the country face a perfect Catch-22: Doomed if you train them and doomed if you don’t.

The media corps based in Afghanistan is anticipating more of these tragic incidents: More shootings of US troops by Afghan insiders or a marine going berserk and massacring dozens of innocent villagers in depression or revenge. In March, Army Staff Sgt Robert Bales stationed at Kandahar base killed 16 Afghans, mostly children and women, besides wounding many others. Photographs surfacing in January of US Marines smiling and posing with Afghan dead bodies and peeing on corpses have not faded in the mind of many locals. Night raids and ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by drone attacks are also only fanning the hate.

So far, 64 US troops have died in green-on-blue attacks. Such attacks only occurred once or twice a year back in 2008, and rose to 11 in 2011 with the number of casualties soaring to 35. In 2012, 36 deaths have so far resulted from 29 such attacks in eight months.

In his Eid message, the elusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar lauded his men for forcing the “foreign aggressors” to become defensive. The militia’s commander has also boasted of infiltrating the ranks of security branches and attacking Nato servicemen.

Neither the Nato’s German commander nor the Afghan officials would pocket such an embarrassing admission. The realities on the ground in Afghanistan, however, do affirm Mullah Omar’s claim – the world doesn’t call Hamid Karzai the mayor of Kabul for nothing. It’s not only that the government is more vulnerable; some shady warlords have even made it into the Afghan parliament.

Given the stark situation, ISAF’s counter-claim that the Taliban’s infiltration of Afghan forces is in the single digits doesn’t fly. The Western military forces fail to understand that opposition to their presence on Afghan soil does not solely come from the Taliban or Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami but from a variety of otherwise muted quarters.

The mere geographic spread of attacks, as well as the highest causality rate in such incidents to date, suggests not only flaws in the screening and recruitment of Afghan troops, but also bitter anger at the US military. Though the withdrawal has to finish by 2014, it remains to be seen whether the insider attacks will continue with the same pace and if generals will stick to pulling out 23,000 troops next month.

Some Afghans believe the US military should reduce its footprint as soon as possible and leave it to the other willing partners to calm local concerns while erecting their self-dependent security apparatus. However, the bigger question that remains is which ISAF partner would send more troops to harm’s way to fill the void left by an early pullout of their American counterparts.

Increasing political cost resulting from soaring number of body bags can, however, change the public perception of victory amongst the American voters. After all, the US soldiers didn’t encounter such disguised enemies in Vietnam nor Iraq. Afghans, for their part, should also remember that a hasty pullout of foreign troops may feed their egos and nationalism but won’t ensure a peaceful and prosperous life in the years to come.

 Naveed Ahmad is a journalist and academic. He co-founded Silent Heroes, Invisible Bridges, and is a recipient of the UN X-Cultural Reporting Award 2010 for his work on inter-religious and inter-cultural success stories themed around the alliance of civilizations.

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