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What's leading Afghan troops to turn on coalition forces?

Waseem Naikzad / AFP - Getty Images

Afghan security force sit on top of a military vehicle in Laghman province Wednesday. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday he was very concerned about the rise in insider attacks on US and NATO troops, and the impact they are having on cooperation with Afghan allies.

News analysis

KABUL, Afghanistan – A group of U.S. Marines in Helmand province was invited to dinner by a local police commander and his men late last week.  A little after midnight, under the dark Afghan sky, the Marines left the police compound and were shot in the back as they walked away. Three were killed.

Last week, seven Americans lost their lives after Afghans they were working with turned their weapons on them.

The military is now designating these incidents in which Afghan troops turn on coalition counterparts as "insider attacks," (they were once called "green-on-blue" incidents) to account for the non-security personnel also involved in the assaults. 

Insider attacks are now at the highest level they have been since the start of the war.


Three US special ops troops killed, Afghan officials say 

In 2007 and 2008 there were four such attacks and four deaths.

So far this year, there have already been 29 incidents in which Afghans turned their weapons on their coalition partners, killing 37.  That’s compared with a total of 21 incidents, in which 35 were killed, in all of 2011. 

The spike has startled many and brought calls to find the catalyst for the deadly problem.

Jose Cabezas / AFP - Getty Images

Members of the Afghan National Army are helped by a US soldier as they participate in a map reading training session at Narizah base in Narizah, Khost Province, on August 12, 2012.

Who or what is to blame? 
One group that would seem like the obvious culprit is the Taliban. They have claimed to infiltrate the Afghan National Security Forces, consisting of both the military and police, to help kill NATO troops from the inside. 

Last year, the group called on more Afghans in uniform to join their cause and turn their weapons on the “foreign invaders” because of their access and proximity. 

NATO does not deny some of the attacks have been from Taliban insurgency infiltration – but they attribute the trend to more than that.

Seven American troops killed in Afghan chopper crash

“There was infiltration; that is correct, we can acknowledge that,” said Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force based in Kabul.  However, he said most of the attacks could be blamed on more basic warfare issues.

“The main reasons for those green on blue incidents are personal grievances, stress situations and what we call battle fatigue,” Katz said.

Hoshang Hashimi / AP

More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

He attributes about 10 percent of the insider attacks to Taliban infiltration, and blames the remaining 90 percent on individual motives.

However, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged the Taliban are somewhat to blame for the attack earlier this week.

“The reality is, the Taliban has not been able to regain any territory lost, so they’re resorting to these kinds of attacks to create havoc,” Panetta told reporters in a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, according to Stars and Stripes.

Panetta later said there is “no one source” responsible for the attacks, and that there are several reasons why Afghan forces would turn on coalition troops.

Cultural divide 
A former commander of the Afghan Border Police, Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil, blames the attacks on a disrespect of the Afghan culture by foreign forces.

“The main reason for these attacks is that the foreign troops have on many occasions humiliated the Afghan culture and religion,” Amarkhil said.  “They’ve entered Afghan homes without permission, killed innocent civilians, they’ve bombarded wedding parties, they’ve entered our mosques with dogs, burned the Holy Quran. All of these are the factors that have contributed to the Afghan army or police being infiltrated by people who have been humiliated by the foreign troops.”

The Afghan general admitted it is not just the fault of NATO, adding that the insider attacks are also because of the weakness in the Afghan National Security Forces’ recruitment system.

“We don’t have a proper procedure for recruitment in our army or police. There are people in the Afghan army who have come from Pakistan and have made Afghan identity cards, " said Amarkhil, explaining that loyalties can be divided.

Training on Afghan culture
Amarkhil believes more should be done to show respect for the Afghan culture and religion by the foreign forces. And ISAF says they are doing just that.

“We continue to improve this process further and further in order to teach our guys [about] ‘what is Afghan culture.’  What can be done, what must not be done,” Katz said.  “We are very serious about that.”

In the meantime, ISAF has implemented force protection measures to help prevent more insider attacks.  Katz would not elaborate on what those measures are.

“We permanently assess the environment our soldiers are working in and assess if the current force protection measures are still in accordance to our assessment. And if not, we change them.”

But Katz says that these incidents, although tragic, are isolated.

“We had a very bad week last week,” he says.  But he believes for the most part there is trust between the Afghan and international forces.

“The more we fight together, the more we trust each other.”

NBC’s Fazl Ahad contributed to this report.

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