- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2011

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan — The Afghan man with a grizzled beard puts his life at risk every time he chats with Army Lt. Col. William Chlebowski.

As an informant for the U.S.-led coalition, the middle-aged man — whose name wasn’t disclosed for security reasons — talks to insurgents one day and snitches on them the next.

He’s part of a network of Afghans across the country who tip coalition forces to the location of roadside bombs and weapons caches and share information about what militants are doing and planning.

It’s a dangerous liaison for both sides.

Coalition forces worry about the accuracy of the tips and fear being set up. Informants worry they will be outed and assassinated by the Taliban.

Col. Chlebowski, commander of the 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, is still a little skeptical of the informant he has met dozens of times in the seven months he’s been stationed at Forward Operating Base Shank in Logar province, south of Kabul.

His military intelligence officer thinks the informant should be arrested for his ties to militants, but Col. Chlebowski has decided to take his chances with the Afghan spy.

“The reason I give him the benefit of the doubt is because he has to play both sides, or he’d be dead by now,” Col. Chlebowski said after meeting with the informant for about an hour one Monday in late May.

The informant, who is not paid for his information, said he decided to help the coalition because Americans helped Afghans fight the Soviets in the 1980s.

“During the Soviet time, it was their weapons, their support that helped us,” he said through an interpreter. “It was because of them that we were capable of standing in the face of the Russians. And now that they’re here to fight against terrorism, we are standing in support of them.”

“I do it for my country, for my pride, for my family,” he said.

The U.S.-led coalition would not disclose any information about how many Afghan informants work for the coalition, saying it could jeopardize operations or intelligence gathering.

However, Colette Murphy, a coalition spokeswoman, said that most forward operating bases will use local residents to gain insight into their communities.

A senior Western intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said Afghans — including innocent civilians — have been murdered because they were suspected informants for the coalition.

But he said he did not know of any Afghan informants killed because their identities were revealed through WikiLeaks, which has released thousands of secret government documents, including some 77,000 classified Pentagon documents on the war.

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