Attrition: An Honorable Death

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April 18, 2012: NATO military leaders are alarmed at the increase in attacks by "friendly" Afghans against foreign troops and they are determined to do something about it. More of these attacks, and declining combat casualties, means that nearly 20 percent of combat deaths are now from attacks by men in Afghan police and army uniforms (who are usually members of the Afghan security forces). To reduce these deliberate friendly fire deaths U.S. troops now observe a new set of security rules. For example, American troops now stand guard over sleeping quarters for U.S. troops at night. American troops working in Afghan army and police facilities are now armed at all times. Those troops have rearranged their desks so that the troops face the door. There are several other changes that were not made public.

Most of these killings have occurred in the last two years. In addition to hurting the morale of foreign troops, this violence also makes it more difficult for Afghan troops to receive advice, training, or services (intelligence, medical, logistic) from the foreigners. Worse yet, the foreign troops are more wary when among their Afghan allies, creating the risk that there will be friendly fire going in the other direction as NATO troops open fire at threats they formerly dismissed. So the Afghan military is going to screen troops, and new recruits, more thoroughly. Officers and NCOs are now supposed to report troops they believe may be unstable or working with the enemy. All this may not be enough.

This is largely because the main problem with Afghan soldiers and police is that many have serious anger management issues and the size of the Afghan security forces have expanded enormously in the last few years. Afghan commanders believe that more careful screening will eliminate the less stable troops, as well as traitors. There is a lot of doubt, although foreign troops are now well aware that they must be careful about getting into an argument with an armed Afghan.

Most of the incidents where Afghan police or soldiers shoot NATO personnel are not about Taliban infiltration but rather a recent argument, often over something trivial (at least to the Westerners). An Afghan will often open fire on armed NATO troops, even though it's obvious that this is a suicidal action. The Taliban often take credit for these incidents, when it was just another case of an Afghan soldier losing control of his actions. Afghan troops often do this with other Afghan troops but these incidents rarely make the headlines, in Afghanistan or outside the country.

Afghanistan is a very violent place, which fascinates, perplexes, and frustrates foreigners. But the violence is also at the root of the many social problems that keep Afghans poor, ignorant, and terrorized. It starts in childhood and never stops. Westerners who get to know the place are appalled to discover how violent Afghanistan is. It's not just men killing each other over minor matters but violence against women and children. Western doctors and nurses working in clinics see a lot of this, much more so than they would back home. The violence continues into adulthood. For example, it was concluded that the killing of president Hamid Karzai's brother (Ahmad, then governor of Kandahar province) last year was not the result of a Taliban assassination plot. The killer was a close personal aid of Ahmad Karzai who had screwed up and discovered that Ahmad was going to punish him in such a way that everyone in the household, and beyond, would know the details of the error and the punishment. This would mean public disgrace, and rather than let that happen the man shot his boss to death and was then killed by Ahmad's bodyguards. This, by Afghan standards, was the honorable way to go. For those with few possessions and little education "honor" looms larger in the scheme of things.

 


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