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Afghan Attacks On Western Partners Rising Sharply

Aug 17, 2012
Originally published on August 17, 2012 6:03 pm

In the past two weeks, seven Afghans in uniform have opened fire on Western forces. The most recent incidents occurred Friday. First, a newly recruited policeman in western Afghanistan turned his gun on U.S. military trainers, killing two and wounding a third. A short time later in southern Kandahar province, an Afghan soldier shot and wounded two foreign troops.

Such assaults were rarely heard of a few years ago. This year, they account for more than 10 percent of the deaths among NATO troops in Afghanistan. Many say Taliban infiltration is to blame for the increase, despite rigorous vetting measures. Others say the majority of the attacks stem from personal disputes.

The attacks continue to raise serious questions about the Afghans' ability to maintain security after the U.S. withdrawal of troops, set for the end of 2014.

Afghan army recruits undergo vetting at places like the biometrics office at the Kabul Military Training Center.

There, an Afghan soldier asks 19-year-old recruit Saeed Hassan about his ethnicity, then types the answer into a U.S.-provided laptop. His fingerprints, physical characteristics and personal history are also recorded and run through databanks.

The goal, says Afghan Col. Mohammad Akbar Stanikzai, is to root out anyone with a criminal record or links to militants among the 8,500 recruits who are processed there each month.

The Afghan intelligence officer says applications that used to be one page are now three pages. Recruits must also provide written character references from village elders as well as stamps of approval from a host of government agencies.

The process for vetting Afghan National Police recruits is similarly complex in a country where most people are illiterate. Stanikzai says the stringent vetting is necessary to prevent militants from infiltrating the Afghan national security forces.

Susceptibility To Taliban Influence?

Yet he and many other Afghans blame the Taliban when asked why members of those security forces are turning their weapons on their Western coalition partners in such alarming numbers.

Stanikzai says even experienced troops who have served loyally can become disillusioned with the country's continued insecurity and economic pressures, and that makes them susceptible to Taliban persuasion.

Fabrizio Foschini of the Afghanistan Analysts Network agrees that constant battlefield pressure can lead to a breakdown of relationships between Western and Afghan troops.

"I wouldn't say it's normal, but I think it's understandable in a war situation, which is lasting for more than a decade, and the presence of foreign troops doesn't seem in the eyes of many Afghans to have brought positive changes," he says.

That's a sentiment Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid says his group hopes to exploit. He claims that increasingly, Afghans are beginning to reject the presence of foreigners in the country.

But the NATO-led coalition dismisses such assertions. Coalition officials blame many of the attacks on personal disputes, and they say such incidents are rare.

"We must not forget that as we speak, we have about 500,000 soldiers and policemen working together today and fighting together, sleeping in the same tents, some of them, eating the same food, drinking the same water," says Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz of the German air force, the top coalition spokesman. "And when you talk to those guys, they build actually trust, they build friendship."

Addressing Underlying Issues

Nevertheless, some officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, say the attacks are damaging troop morale on both sides.

"Relationships among militaries are built on confidence and trust, and obviously this undermines that, or attacks that confidence and trust," Cunningham says. "But it's also something I think that both our folks and the Afghans are determined to get over."

Others are not as convinced. Some analysts question whether the recruitment is being rushed because of the Western plan to hand over security responsibilities to the Afghans before most of the international troops depart.

The shooter who killed the two Americans on Friday was a new recruit for the Afghan Local Police. These are village militias that NATO forces are creating and training.

Daoud Sultanzoi, an Afghan TV host and former lawmaker, says it's paramount that both Western and Afghan officials get to the bottom of such attacks.

"Those we are training to rely on and deliver responsibility," Sultanzoi says. "If they're doing this, then what are we doing wrong?"

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. In western Afghanistan today, a newly recruited Afghan policeman turned a gun on his American military trainers, killing two and wounding one. A short time later in southern Kandahar province, an Afghan soldier shot and wounded two foreign troops. That makes seven times in two weeks that an Afghan in uniform has opened fire on Western forces. Such assaults were rarely heard of a few years ago. This year, they account for more than one in 10 deaths of NATO troops in Afghanistan. From Kabul, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports on efforts to prevent these attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Afghan soldiers hurry along a batch of nervous recruits to biometrics office at the Kabul Military Training Center.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Inside, a soldier asks 19-year-old recruit Saeed Hassan about his ethnicity, then types the answer into a U.S.-provided laptop. His fingerprints, physical characteristics and personal history are also recorded and run through databanks. The goal, says Colonel Mohammad Akbar Stanikzai, is to root out anyone with a criminal record or links to militants among the 8,500 recruits who are processed here each month.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The Afghan intelligence officer says applications that used to be one page are now three pages. Recruits must also provide written character references from village elders as well as stamps of approval from a host of government agencies. The process for vetting national police recruits is similarly complex in a country where most people are illiterate. Stanikzai says the stringent vetting is necessary to prevent militants from infiltrating the Afghan National Security Forces. Yet he and many other Afghans blame the Taliban when asked why members of those security forces are turning their weapons on their Western coalition partners in such alarming numbers.

COLONEL MOHAMMAD AKBAR STANIKZAI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says even troops who are experienced and served loyally can become disillusioned with the continued insecurity and economic pressures, and that makes them susceptible to Taliban persuasion.

Fabrizio Foschini of the Afghanistan Analysts Network agrees that constant battlefield pressure can lead to a breakdown of relationships between Western and Afghan troops.

FABRIZIO FOSCHINI: I wouldn't say it's normal, but I think it's understandable in a war situation, which is lasting now for more than a decade. And the presence of foreign troops doesn't seem in the eyes of many Afghans to have brought positive changes.

ZABIULLAH MUJAHID: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: That's a sentiment Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid says his group hopes to exploit. He claims that increasingly, Afghans are beginning to reject the presence of foreigners here. But the NATO-led coalition dismisses such assertions. Coalition officials blame many of the attacks on personal disputes, and they say such incidents are rare. German Air Force Brigadier General Gunter Katz is the top coalition spokesman.

We must not forget that as we speak, we have about 500,000 people and soldiers and policemen working together today and fighting together, sleeping in the same tents, some of them, eating the same food, drinking the same water. And when you talk to those guys, they build actually trust. They build friendship.

Nevertheless, some officials like U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham say the attacks are damaging troop morale on both sides.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM: Relationships among militaries are built on confidence and trust, and obviously this is - this undermines that or attacks that confidence and trust. But it's also something that both our folks and the Afghans are determined to get over.

NELSON: Others are not as convinced. Some analysts question whether the recruitment is being rushed because of the Western plan to hand over security responsibilities to the Afghans before most of the international troops depart in 2014. The shooter who killed the two Americans today was a new recruit for the Afghan Local Police. These are village militias being created and trained by NATO forces. Daoud Sultanzoi, a TV show host here and former lawmaker, says it's paramount that both Western and Afghan officials get to the bottom of such attacks.

DAOUD SULTANZOI: Those we are training to rely on and deliver responsibility, if they're doing this, then what are we doing wrong?

NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.