Editor’s note: Dr Sajjan Gohel is International Security Director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation, an independent policy assessment group based in London. He provides analysis on terrorism, security, defense and geopolitical issues to the media, military and government bodies, including the UK’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
London (CNN) — In recent days, rogue Afghan security forces have killed six servicemen from the NATO-led military coalition, pushing the number of such fatalities past 50 in a single year for the first time. The death toll highlights one of the biggest challenges facing the coalition as it nears the end of its role in Afghanistan’s war.
These killings, known as “green-on-blue” or “insider attacks,” have increased substantially within the past two years, accounting for 14% of coalition casualties in 2012. Though statistically small compared to the numbers of IED-related (roadside bomb) deaths, these attacks have a significant impact on the coalition’s mission in Afghanistan.
The two provinces burdened with the bulk of green-on-blue attacks are Helmand and Kandahar. It is no coincidence that these areas are where the Taliban are strongest, and where the country’s highest levels of opium poppy cultivation help fund the insurgency.
Dr Sajjan Gohel is International Security Director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation, an independent policy assessment group.Green-on-blue attacks began to accelerate in 2011, just after U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan and end combat operations in 2014, transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan forces.
The success of the transition from NATO-led to Afghan-led forces depends on the competence and commitment of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
But the Taliban, operating from safe havens in Pakistan, say they have stepped up efforts to infiltrate both groups, and regularly claim responsibility for each incident. The spread of green-on-blue attacks has left coalition forces increasingly suspicious of the Afghan forces they are training and fighting alongside.
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Some Afghans in government believe that insider attacks are based on resentment towards coalition forces based on the increasing number of civilian deaths after more than a decade of the Taliban insurgency.
A daunting transition in Afghanistan In a step towards the transition, Afghanistan and the U.S. have reached a deal to curb night raids on Afghan homes, giving Kabul a veto over the operations, which are unpopular with local people.
But although cultural and social differences may play a role in the increase in attacks, defections by Afghan security, sometimes motivated by economic reasons, play a far more significant part in the green-on-blue attacks.
The U.S. military has tried to take action to prevent attacks by Afghan forces, appointing monitors to provide security for troops working with Afghans, boosting its counterintelligence infrastructure in Afghanistan, adopting an eight-step vetting process for Afghan recruits and revising the training they receive.
In addition all U.S. and NATO troops were recently ordered to carry loaded weapons at all times. So far, though, none of these strategies appear to be stemming flow of violence, only serving to increase the trust deficit between coalition and Afghan forces
The Taliban have utilized green-on-blue attacks in their propaganda: Last month, Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban faction known as the Quetta Shura, claimed the Taliban had “cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy” and encouraged Afghan government officials and security personnel to defect to the Taliban as a matter of religious obligation.
One could argue the Taliban communicate better with the Afghan people than coalition troops, distributing internet videos through websites and mobile phones, which are becoming omnipresent — more than half of the Afghan population is reported to own a mobile phone.