The 2-year-old U.S. practice of mixing American and Afghan forces 24 hours a day has produced cultural clashes that have led to an increase of “green-on-blue” slayings of U.S. troops in which Afghan security personnel turn their weapons on their trainers, says an adviser to U.S. commanders and policymakers.
For years in Afghanistan, allied forces had practiced “mentoring”: U.S. officers would interact with Afghan commanders at higher levels and would train locals on bases. Afghan troops then went out and performed missions with a limited number of allied ground forces.
A new strategy took hold after the 2009 surge of U.S. troops. “Mentoring” was replaced by “partnering” — drawing U.S. and Afghan forces more closely together. Americans lived with and fought alongside Afghan security personnel, day in, day out — and the Western and Muslim cultures collided, said military analyst Stephen Biddle, a professor at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Studies.
“The cultures of the American military and the culture of the Afghan National Security Force [ANSF] are sufficiently at odds with each other that, in fact, they don’t work together very well at the grass-roots level,” said Mr. Biddle, who has worked in groups that helped shape the Pentagon’s counterinsurgency strategy. “If anything, they are creating more friction and enmity between Americans and Afghans than they are creating cooperating improvement.”
After 45 green-on-blue insider attacks this year alone killed 51 international troops, the NATO command again is changing its approach, at least for now.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it has stopped training Afghan troops and working with them below the battalion level, saying the change will not affect the withdrawal of international combat forces from the country by the end of 2014.
The military maintains that only about 25 percent of insider killings are the result of direct infiltration by the Taliban. Most, it says, stem from cultural clashes or grievances, although the military concedes such disagreements can push an Afghan soldier to side with the enemy.
The NATO command Tuesday put a positive spin on the suspension of some joint patrols, mentioning the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” as a factor, just as the White House has cited the Internet clip for sparking violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
But the sharp rise in insider attacks began months before the video clip appeared, according to statistics released in Kabul in the past year.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) “remains absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our ANSF counterparts,” the command statement reads. “In some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased. These actions balance the tension of the recent video with force protection, while maintaining the momentum of the campaign.”
Perhaps the loudest alarm bell for worsening relationships came last year, when Jeffrey Bordin, a behavior scientist working with troops in Afghanistan, produced a stark report on U.S.-Afghan partnering. The command authorized the study after an Afghan security officer killed six U.S. soldiers in what the Bordin report said was “one of the worse mass-murder incidents ever suffered by U.S. military forces.”
Titled “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility,” the report was the result of a series of focus groups involving Afghans and Americans.
“ANSF members identified numerous social, cultural and operational grievances they have with U.S. soldiers,” the study said. “They found many U.S. soldiers to be extremely arrogant, bullying, unwilling to listen to their advice and were often seen as lacking concern for civilian and ANSF safety during combat.”
U.S. soldiers’ complained about their Afghan allies: “They reported pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapons handling, corrupt officers covert alliances/informal treaties with insurgents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, laziness, repulsive hygiene and the torture of dogs.”
The ‘partnering’ model