For the 16th time this year and second time in as many days, Afghans in government uniforms have turned their guns on NATO soldiers. The latest attack occurred in Helmand Province when two men "opened fire on British soldiers inside a joint military base in Nahre Saraj district," killing one and possibly two men. Depending on the source, between 42 and 52 "green on blue" attacks have been recorded since May 2007, claiming the lives of an estimated 70 NATO soldiers. This weekend's attacks raised 2012's count to 22, setting the insurgency on a new pace as 2014 approaches.
More attacks have been rooted out before coming to fruition, according to Afghan officials. Zahir Azimy, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, recently told reporters that "the enemy has made many efforts and if you look at the department's documents... many of them have been prevented in all units."
Afghan and U.S. officials don't deny having a problem on their hands. Insurgent infiltration is expected during the construction of a national army and police force, especially when some candidates reside in Taliban territory. General Abdul Hameed, the senior army commander in Afghanistan's southern region, told Reuters by telephone, "Placing the rogues inside the army is well-planned by the enemies. The Taliban give them special training." One U.S. military officer tasked to the recruitment process separately told The New York Times, “There’s a major effort to turn Afghans once they’re already inside the security forces, as well as a push to infiltrate existing militants into the ranks." This psychological campaign employs "a range of tactics,” including cold-calling army cellphone lists and "paying relatives who are sympathetic to the insurgents." However the Pentagon is inclined to downplay the bulk of attacks as Taliban fabrications.
Hours after Friday's incident, Navy Capt. John Kirby (and deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations), told reporters, “Based on the limited evidence that we have been able to collect, we believe that less than half, somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four out of every 10 [attacks] is inspired, or resourced, or planned or executed by the Taliban or Taliban sympathizers.”
That leaves "the majority" to be classified as "individual acts of grievance."
Kirby insists that the cause "doesn’t lessen the importance of it whether it’s an act of infiltration or not," but the Obama administration is pursuing this exact outcome. In Helmand's latest case, two provincial officials said the men joined the force over a year ago, but an ISAF statement resisted these "claims" in favor of "operational reports" that "indicate these were insurgents dressed in AUP uniforms and not actual AUP." U.S. counterclaims aren't wholly inaccurate. Some incidents are the independently-documented result of "heated arguments," while other "infiltrators" work on an ad hoc basis. Kirby distinguishes between a deliberate infiltration and “legitimate soldier or police officer [who] turned Taliban," but the source remains Taliban in nature.
Throwing their own caution aside, Pentagon officials do their best to minimize the Taliban's effectiveness and public declarations of infiltrating the army.
The personal effects of each incident are grossly outweighed by its political collateral. While all loss of life affects a circle of people on the deepest level, and U.S.-Afghan military relations cannot be disrupted by these attacks, friction can be found everywhere between green and blue. Clearly NATO and Kabul are prone to disagreement over the status of suspected infiltrators; General Hameed admits that the size of and accelerated demand for Afghanistan's security forces prevents absolute vetting of its ranks. One of the Taliban's secondary targets - the trust bonds between Afghan and NATO ground troops - has yet to unleash a widespread backlash in their ranks, but infiltrations are primarily designed to undermine NATO's public support for Kabul.
Green on blue killings in late January would heighten the war's controversy in France, a situation that culminated in Nicolas Sarkozy's exit and the possible withdrawal of 3,600 French troops. Other European countries are susceptible to the same threat - Britain had its turn today. An American populace feeling rising opposition to a long-term presence in Afghanistan demands apologizes from Hamid Karzai for acts that he has no control over. Strategically, infiltration fits into the Taliban's wider unconventional operations of high-profile assassination and "spectacular attacks," wearing down NATO's overall strength without risking men and weapons to retake territory from numerically-superior forces.
The Taliban realize that a limited number of infiltrations pays off big in the war for public opinion.