Threat from within: U.S. military braced for surge in Taliban ‘insider’ attacks

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Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry issued a statement April 29 stating that its forces are prepared for the spring offensive and dismissed the Taliban threats as “propaganda.”

Michael Rubin, American Enterprise Institute expert on the Afghan conflict, said insider attacks have limited military utility but can be demoralizing.

“Afghans have never lost a war, they just defect to the winning side,” Rubin said in an email. “Momentum means everything. The insider attacks might only kill a handful of soldiers, but they demoralize on a far larger scale. And so, while the attack itself might only splinter the wood, the incumbent demoralization will throw the door wide open.”

Infiltration attacks also can upset U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.

“It’s hard to build rapport and trust with our partners if we’re looking over our shoulder every ten seconds,” Rubin said.

However, Rubin said the Taliban might hit a dead end with the strategy emphasizing insider strikes.

“It’s one thing to argue jihadists have to kill themselves to defeat the Americans, but with the Taliban spinning the transition in Afghanistan as a sign of American defeat, ultimately some Afghans will begin to ask themselves why they should be the last suicide bomber,” he said.

Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said insider attacks declined significantly so far in 2013.

“As part of their summer offensive, the Taliban have pledged to reverse this trend by infiltrating the Afghan security forces,” she said. “The Taliban assess insider attacks are the best way to demoralize the U.S. and NATO forces and speed up the pace of their withdrawal.”

Curtis said after the U.S. military cut back joint patrols with Afghan forces last year after the increase in insider attacks, “the Taliban were elated and called the move the start of the coalition’s overall defeat in Afghanistan.”

The U.S. and Afghan militaries have taken steps to curb the attacks through more careful vetting and monitoring of recruits, she said.

“The Afghan Army leadership has taken the issue of insider attacks very seriously and it is not clear that the Taliban will be able to follow through on their pledge to step up these kinds of attacks in 2013,” Curtis said.

 

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