The post-Koran-burning slayings in Afghanistan have put focus on one of the most pressing questions facing U.S. commanders: Why do Afghan troops suddenly turn their weapons on NATO personnel and kill them?
Six Army soldiers alone were killed by insiders — two in the Interior Ministry and four at bases in southern and eastern Afghanistan — after reports surfaced Feb. 20 that U.S. personnel burned Korans at the main base in Bagram.
There is not an official report on the killings. Speculation immediately centered on the Taliban or the Haqqani Network activating agents inside the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to commit murder.
But analysts, statistics and at least one study suggest that the explanation is not so simple.
In an impoverished, deeply Islamic nation at war for decades, amid a stark mix of Western and old-school Muslim values, disputes are bound to arise.
“The Taliban have been pretty consistent in messaging, calling for the Afghan security force, police and army to turn on their NATO counterparts,” said Paraag Shukla, a former Pentagon intelligence officer who is an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
“But the effect of some of this consistent messaging is really very, very difficult to measure because we don’t know the motives for these killings of [NATO] personnel. There’s not really a consistent pattern. They are sort of all over the map.”
‘Green on blue’
Pentagon statistics provided to The Washington Times paint a complex picture.
Before the Koran burning, there were 42 reported incidents of “green on blue,” as the Afghan troop betrayal is called, from 2007 to February of this year.
But the U.S. could confirm only four, or 9 percent, as the work of insurgent plants who sneaked through the U.S.-Afghan screening process.
Another four cases are classified as “co-option” — that is, an Afghan is threatened or bribed.
The majority, 26 incidents, stemmed from “personal matters” such as disputes among soldiers or grievances against the command.
The Pentagon has yet to come up with a sure-fire way to weed out malcontents before they resort to violence.
“Personal issues, combat stress and other factors, some of which we don’t fully understand in every individual case, often underlie these attacks,” David Sedney, assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, told the House Armed Services Committee last month.