U.S. and NATO troops will be at risk of being attacked and killed by their Afghan counterparts during the duration of their mission in the country, Afghanistan commander Gen. John Allen warned Monday.
So-called “green-on-blue” violence on American soldiers is simply “a characteristic of counterinsurgency [operations],” Allen told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
Counterintelligence units from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, the country’s fledgling intelligence agency, have been planted at every level within the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), according to Allen.
Those counterintelligence units are “inside their schools … inside their ranks” with the intent of weeding out Taliban infiltrators and radical fundamentalists from the Afghan armed forces, he said.
With the assistance of coalition forces, the intel units have been successful in capturing Taliban double-agents within the ANSF, according to Allen.
But the four-star general noted that more than 50 percent of all green-on-blue attacks “are not a direct result” of Taliban infiltration.
The majority of the attacks are committed by regular soldiers who somehow became “gradually self-radicalized” during their time in the Afghan military.
Those radicalized soldiers have not limited their attacks to Western troops, but have also lashed out against their own in incidences of “green-on-green” violence, according to Allen.
The general’s comments come amid new reports of Afghan soldiers turning their fire on Foreign Service members.
A rogue Afghan army officer shot and killed one British soldier and a Royal Marine and wounded a third early Monday morning at the unit’s outpost in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s restive Helmund province, according to reports.
The shootings come weeks after two U.S. officers were killed by an Afghan security official inside the country’s Ministry of the Interior, after the accidental burnings of the Quran by American troops sparked a week of violent protests.
Last April, a colonel with the Afghan air force shot several U.S. Air Force officers at Bagram Air Base in Kandahar.
Those officers were reportedly investigating a drug-smuggling ring allegedly run by Afghan airmen.
U.S. and NATO commanders have begun using a new screening process when vetting candidates for the ANSF, Allen said during a Monday speech at the Brookings Institution.
This new process is geared toward identifying certain personality traits or characteristics that could make a recruit susceptible to becoming radicalized.
Coalition leaders are also leaning on local leaders to weigh in on potential military recruits drawn from the various villages and hamlets in the Afghan countryside.
These local elders will help “ferret out” questionable candidates, based on their extensive and sometimes lifelong relationships with the young recruits.
All these efforts, however, cannot predict whether an Afghan soldier will turn on his coalition advisers.
Unforeseen events, like the Quran burnings or the alleged shooting of civilians by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, would result in an uptick of violence against American soldiers no matter what steps are taken to weed out radicals.
That said, those events and others “all are potential factors” in predicting whether an Afghan solider becomes an enemy of coalition forces, according to Allen.
Bales was charged last Friday with 17 counts of murder for allegedly opening fire on Afghan civilians on March 11. He is being held at a prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
Allen declined to comment on the specifics of the Bales case and what impact it would have on continued violence against U.S. forces by Afghan troops.
However, the four-star general did call the need for revenge “prevalent” within Afghan culture, especially in incidents like the Bales case.
While American officials have paid restitution to the families of victims in the Bales incident, Allen said U.S. and coalition leaders “will keep an eye on” the situation as the Pentagon investigation continues.