Allied troops remain wary of Afghan soldiers

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Last Wednesday, there was yet another of what is now known as green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan.

Two uniformed members of the Afghan security force suddenly turned their weapons on U.S. coalition forces and opened fire, killing two American soldiers. Both Afghan attackers were then killed.

This was the first incident of Afghans turning on their NATO mentors in 2014, but this tactic is certainly not new. To date, Afghans wearing security force uniforms have killed 82 NATO soldiers, and wounded dozens more of international troops.

A January 2012 incident of green-on-blue violence that led to the deaths of four French soldiers served to hasten the departure of French combat troops from Afghanistan.

Since the outbreak of these attacks, NATO instructors and mentors have been increasingly wary of their recruits and have taken additional precautions to protect themselves.

On my most recent visit to Afghanistan in December, I witnessed first hand the tension that exists between NATO personnel and their Afghan charges.

My team, which included Ottawa Citizen defence reporter David Pugliese and Australian cameraman Sasha Uzunov, was granted access to a live-fire training exercise by the Afghan Army’s elite mobile strike force. These new units are to form the primary counter to Taliban threats and, as such, have received the best equipment and most advanced training.

The source of their mobility is a fleet of Textron-built Commando armoured patrol vehicles, which were generously purchased for the Afghans by the U.S. The Commando is a very capable vehicle, and very similar to the new fleet of tactical armoured patrol vehicles Canada recently purchased from Textron Systems.

The Commandos offer good protection and boast some pretty serious firepower in the form of a 40-mm automatic grenade launcher and a .50-calibre machine gun.

The day we visited the range, the Afghan crews were being put through their paces by NATO instructors as they engaged static targets with both the grenade launchers and .50-calibre machine guns.

In addition to having one instructor perched atop each vehicle’s turret to supervise the firing, there were about two-dozen NATO officers milling about behind the line of Commando vehicles.

My team was allowed to roam about and film at will, but wherever we moved we were always accompanied by a NATO “Guardian Angel.” Fully locked and loaded, these soldiers kept a very attentive watch on the assembled ranks of Afghan soldiers awaiting their turn in the turrets.

Pugliese was the first to notice a pair of French soldiers brandishing rifle grenades on the end of their assault rifles. Asking them about the purpose of their armoured piercing ordnance, one French soldier nodded his head in the direction of the armoured vehicles and replied curtly, “If anyone starts to turn their turret (toward us)  they’re dead.”

Even inside Kabul’s Green Zone, a veritable NATO fortress of concrete, vehicle barriers and guard towers in the centre of the Afghan capital, movement between locations requires a fully armed escort by Guardian Angels.

On one such short trek between the NATO headquarters and the Afghan defence headquarters — about 600 metres — we were assigned an escort squad of National Guardsman from Guam. They were equipped with full body armour and each one carried at least 300 rounds of ammunition, just to walk us down the road inside the Green Zone.

The precaution is not baseless, as there have been a few cases of green-on-blue attacks on NATO personnel even inside this fortified complex.

When Canada first became embroiled in the conflict in Afghanistan, the Turkish ambassador in Ottawa had some words of caution. Born in Afghanistan as the son of a Turkish military adviser stationed there, Aydemir Erman knows that country better than most.

Prior to coming to Canada, he had been Turkey’s special envoy to Afghanistan during the Taliban era. He knew the Northern Alliance warlords and had even met Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Erman’s words to the wise were: “You can never buy an Afghan’s loyalty; you can rent it, but you will never buy it.”

That observation is becoming all too apparent as the green-on-blue attacks intensify prior to NATO’s planned withdrawal in 2014.