The majority of attacks on U.S. and coalition troops by Afghan soldiers who are supposed to be friendly are personal attacks unconnected to insurgent groups, defense officials said Wednesday.
Four defense officials testified in a House Armed Services Committee hearing about an attack by an Afghan private security contractor on U.S. troops in March 2011 that killed two soldiers, including a constituent of committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).
The issue of Afghan soldiers attacking coalition troops has been thrust into the news recently after an attack last month that killed four French soldiers. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said a week later that France would be withdrawing its coalition troops from Afghanistan a year early.
At the hearing, officials said most of the attacks involved members of the Afghan National Security Force, and three, including the March 2011 attack, were by private contractors. After personal attacks, insurgents infiltrating and impersonating Afghan security forces were the next most common type of attack.
Another killing of a NATO soldier by Afghan soldiers occurred Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported.
McKeon said that improvements were needed in screening Afghans who guard coalition bases. He said that these kinds of attacks are on the rise, as 75 percent have occurred in 2010 and 2011.
“The screening and vetting has been tragically weak in picking up signs of threats after the Afghan joined either the Afghan National Security Force, or a private security contractor,” McKeon said. “DOD data indicates that at least 60 percent of all the attacks appear to be motivated by personal matters, arising after hiring.”
David Sedney, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, said that the personal attacks occur because of personal issues, combat stress and other factors.
The March 2011 attack, where Army Spc. Rudy Acosta and Cpl. Donald Mickler Jr. were killed, occurred at Front Operating Base Frontenac, which was secured by a private security contractor.
The contractor, Tundra Security, had hired an Afghan man who was fired the year prior from a different command post for making threats about killing Americans, but his statements weren’t included in his record.
Acosta’s parents, constituents of McKeon’s, attended the hearing. They did not testify, but McKeon read a statement for them, which said that U.S. troops should be guarding their bases, not Afghans.
McKeon said the issue of contractor security has been complicated because Afghan President Hamid Karzai has only allowed Afghan nationals to be used as security contractors, and not U.S. citizens. He has also called for all private security contractors to be disbanded and replaced with an Afghan Personal Protection Force run by the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior.
Defense officials said they have stepped up screening procedures for contractors since the attack last year.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell, said that the United States has worked with Afghanistan officials to create a layered screening process and improved detection of potential threats.
“Our bottom line up front is the protection of service members deployed in harm's way against any threat remains one of our highest priorities for our commanders and leaders,” Townsend said. “Although there's no such thing as perfect protection, especially in Afghanistan, we know we must continue to develop effective ways to combat the insider threat to our service members.”
Contractors do play an important role in Afghanistan, said Gary Motsek, deputy assistant secretary of defense for program support, as 20,000 soldiers would be needed to do the non-combat-related functions they provide.
“I don't believe we can actually fully eliminate them,” Motsek said of the attacks, “but we must do everything in our power to minimize them.”