Insider attacks in Afghanistan more complex than simple betrayal
A suicide attack in Afghanistan on October 13 killed two Americans and four Afghan Intelligence agency colleagues.
The attacker detonated his explosive vest as furniture was being delivered to a new intelligence office in Maruf district.
The bomber worn the explosives under his Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) uniform, the attire of the fledgling intelligence agency in Afghanistan.
Although the target appears to have been local intelligence officers, according to an Afghan official, perhaps more worryingly for ongoing stability is that it was described as "an attack on the NDS by the NDS".
This year has seen many similar insider attacks throughout the war-torn nation.
Excluding the death and injury caused by improvised explosive devices such as roadside bombs, 33% of casualties are the result of intentional attacks by local troops of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
There were six incidents in 2010, 15 in 2011 and 64 so far this year.
Have eroded trust
Insider attacks have eroded trust between foreign troops and Afghan forces, NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier this month, adding that coalition forces will continue to take preventative measures to avoid them.
Such "green on blue" attacks by Afghan military or security force members are killing one in three international troops. September 30 marked the death of the 2000th US serviceman – in an insider attack on his patrol.
NATO estimates 25% are conducted by the Taliban insurgents while the rest are the result of cultural misunderstandings and arguments. Tribal and cultural feuds tend are foten solved by guns rather than by rational discussion.
Manuals are issued to fresh Afghan troops to try and temper the potential for cultural faux-pas and missteps.
Some tell recruits not to be offended if, for instance, an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldier blows his nose in front of them – which is regarded as offensive.
Problems also arise when training programmes include physical pushing or verbal motivation that recruits view as a personal affront to their masculinity or status.
Afghan security forces sometimes use opiate substances even while on military operations, resulting in misakes or miscalculations.
An uptick in insider killings come at a time when great effort is being made to train the local military and the police force to take over responsibility of security.
Kiwi troops coming home
ISAF and US troops have a little over two years before the withdrawal deadline of late 2014 calls them home.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman have confirmed cabinet has agreed the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) will be withdrawn from Bamyan province by the end of April 2013.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond last week announced thousands of British troops will be withdrawn in 2013. Other ISAF contributors will do the same.
The departure of British and Kiwi troops is not a reaction to increased insider attacks but is part of a structured plan for transition.
However, both countries have had relatively high casualties in 2012. Five Kiwi troops have been killed and several wounded, and Britain lost some troops a result of insider attacks.
"Green on blue" attacks are clearly reaching a level where something needs to change as each attack drives a wedge between local forces and international troops.
To reduce the risk, an order was issued on September 16 to terminate routine operations with Afghan forces. Any joint operations will require the approval of a regional commander.
This decision came after an unusually successful attack by insurgents on the Nato military base Camp Bastion on September 14, which appears to have benefited from insider assistance.
The raid, in Helmand province, demonstrated the insurgent’s strength in the area even after the US-led surge has largely been completed.
Insider attacks have more to do with inter-tribal warring than Islamism and date back well beyond even the colonial British attempts to subdue Afghanistan.
Afghans are extremely tribal people. Dealing with conflict in a culture where violence is neither abstract nor strategic, and is intensely personal and familial, sheds some light on why insider attacks are so common.
The concept of a nation state appears to mean little to those living in the provinces outside the capital, Kabul. Tribes are more important to most Afghans, especially when invading armies and governments consistently collapse while attempting to amalgamate the country.
After more than a decade of work, tribes and democracy still are all but incompatible.
An international criminal element must also be considered. Afghanistan has a thriving black market of opium and black-tar heroin, which brings millions of dollars into the local economy.
As is being displayed in truly grotesque fashion in Mexico and Columbia, a drug trade can encourage some of the nastiest and violent aspects of humanity.
While ISAF forces struggle to maintain security and nurture a working government, radical Islamism, a violent drug trade and centuries-old tribal feuds unleash terrible consequences on the populace, and inevitably the overseas troops.
Insider attacks have targeted all levels of personnel, from Afghan interpreters to ranking uniformed international military officers. This indicates the killings may have something to do with the recruit selection process.
When deputy commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General James Terry, announced the termination of joint patrols earlier last month, he indicated a wish to re-examine the backgrounds of all Afghan security personnel to check for any potential threats.
While this may be possible in many Western countries, Afghanistan simply does not have the civil records to allow this.
Initial background checks on current Afghan troops encountered the same problem. Much of the time a basic verbal testimony from a fellow villager was deemed enough to verify a candidate.
Ultimately, insider attacks are not a clear case of simple betrayal.
They are a complex storm of effects stemming from an international drug trade, a transnational insurgency, local militant groups leveraging radical Islam and embedded cultural and tribal norms in a country with profound literacy and municipal under-development.
Similar attacks will likely continue throughout the remaining deployment of international forces. They do not necessarily indicate a failure in Nato strategy but are a phenomenon inherent in the Afghan way of life.
Nathan Smith has a Bachelor of Communications in Journalism from Massey University and has studied international relations and conflict