Ramadan fasts playing role in Afghan ‘insider’ attacks, says general

Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Thursday that the Muslim holiday of Ramadan is contributing to the spike of “insider” attacks by Afghan soldiers on NATO troops.

Allen said that while fasting during the holy month of Ramadan was not the principle reason for an uptick in insider attacks, the holiday’s occurrence in the height of the fighting season could be adding to the stress of combat that has led Afghan soldiers to attack their U.S. and NATO trainers.

“It's a very tough time for these forces, and in particular, this year, Ramadan, as it is known in most of the Muslim world, Ramadan fell in the middle of the fighting season, during some of the harshest time for the climate in much of the region in which we fight,” Allen said during a Pentagon press briefing via satellite.

“The daily pressures that are on some of these troops, compounded by the sacrifice associated with fasting, the nature of our operational tempo — remembering that Afghan troops have gone to the field and they have stayed in the field, and they've been in combat now for years — we believe that the combination of many of these particular factors may have come together during the last several weeks to generate the larger numbers,” he said.

There has been a notable increase in recent weeks in “green-on-blue” or insider attacks, where Afghan soldiers and police officers have attacked NATO troops. At least 10 U.S. service members have been killed in the attacks this month.

The attacks by supposedly friendly Afghan soldiers could complicate the U.S. transition strategy in Afghanistan as it hands off more responsibilities to Afghan security forces. NATO plans to transfer full control of security to the Afghans by 2014, a timeline that Allen said remains on track. 

The Taliban has claimed credit for the increased insider attacks, but U.S. officials have said that the majority of the attacks are more about personal grievances or radicalization.

Still, Allen said that about 25 percent of the insider attacks were due to Taliban infiltration and impersonation, the highest percentage Pentagon officials have attributed to the Taliban.

Allen said the 25 percent figure did not constitute an increase in Taliban-related green-on-blue attacks, but rather was a different way of counting the attacks.

“If it's just pure Taliban infiltration, that is one number,” Allen said, when asked about previous Pentagon calculations that Taliban infiltrations made up 10 percent of the attacks. “If you add to that impersonation, the potential that someone is pulling the trigger because the Taliban have coerced the family members, that's a different number.”

Allen said that during Ramadan, the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) working with Afghan troops were careful to take the added difficulties of fasting into account.

“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, as well as ours,” Allen said.

“Even with reduced op tempo during Ramazan, where we tried to do it in the coolness of the morning or the coolness of the evening, did it closer to the period of time when the troops may have had access to water or to food, it was still during a very hot part of the season,” he said.