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Attack on the home front

The U.S. commander of the security assistance mission in Afghanistan said that Afghan soldiers and police returning from leave may be more likely to carry out future green-on-blue attacks.

In an effort to clamp down on insider attacks in Afghanistan, coalition forces are working with their Afghan allies to track down potential threats hiding in the ranks of the Afghan national security forces.

They are trying everything from re-vetting the entire force of 350,000 Afghan soldiers to looking at how they prepare their soldiers for leave, or vacation, and watching them closely when they return from leave.

The idea is the soldiers are vulnerable to becoming radicalized when they go home and are possibly exposed to insurgents in their community, Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, commander of International Security Assistance Forces Joint Command, told reporters at a Sept. 5 Pentagon briefing via satellite link from Kabul .

“We offered to the Afghans that they ought to look at the leave period; that went to them personally from my experience from the United States Army,” Terry said. “I find that my soldiers are most vulnerable as they go out on leave and expose themselves outside the structure of the Army.”

The recent spike in “green-on-blue” or insider attacks by supposed Afghan allies on U.S. and coalition troops has killed 42 U.S. and allied troops this year. At least 109 U.S. and coalition troops have been killed in similar attacks since 2007.

While this is a serious problem, it’s likely more of an issue on the home front than it is at the tip of the spear. Insider attacks were not a problem during the war in Iraq, but the concept of fighting a cunning, invisible enemy is nothing new.

There has been a lot of surprise and disbelief that the Afghan security forces have done a poor job vetting recruits to ensure they aren’t really insurgents. Not to be callous, but this is the same culture in which its people’s standard response to why things happen is “An Shalah” or if God wills it.

It’s not a society full of type-A personalities driven by ambition and a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder. On the other hand, it will be interesting if these attacks continue at the current rate in spite of the intense efforts to stamp out insider attacks.

Most commanders, including Terry, already seem to have accepted that these guerilla attacks will continue for years to come.

“My intent is to drive down and defeat this threat; the reality is I think we are going to face this,” Terry said. “I think what you are seeing is an enemy out there that is adaptive. … I think he is very concerned about the growing capability of the Afghan national security forces.”

Pentagon officials maintain that only about 25 percent of these attacks are being carried out by insurgent forces.

Regardless of the cause – personal vendettas or radicalized infiltrators -- insider attacks are effective because they provide “the enemy with an opportunity to seize that and try to drive a wedge between the coalition and the emerging capabilities of the Afghan national security forces,” Terry said.

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