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Insider attacks: How US and Afghan troops see the mission now

The US has halted some police training and the Afghan military has dismissed hundreds of recruits in a bid to stem insider attacks. But joint missions go on.

By Franz-Stefan GadyContributor / September 6, 2012

In this Aug. 27 photo, Afghan men listen to speeches, as Afghan and US soldiers stand guard in the background, in Washer district, Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Abdul Khaleq/AP

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Combat Outpost Zormat, Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry said today that it had arrested or fired hundreds of Afghan soldiers in an attempt to stem insider attacks against NATO troops that threaten to undermine Western withdrawal plans.

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Over the weekend, US officials announced that the United States had suspended training for Afghan police recruits in order to vet existing members as insider attacks grow more common: Afghan troops have killed at least 45 foreign troops so far this year.

The future of Afghan security increasingly rests on the shoulders of Afghan troops as they slowly assume security responsibility from foreign forces. But clashing military cultures and the resulting misunderstandings and frustrations raise questions about the success of the transition.

“US forces have been placed in an extremely difficult situation,” says Seth Jones, a senior analyst at the RAND Corp. and former senior adviser to US Special Operations in Afghanistan. “They are being asked to quickly train and mentor Afghan forces in a situation where they are withdrawing but the war is far from over.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, more than half of the US foreign assistance to Afghanistan goes into training the Afghan military and police. At a summit in Chicago in May, NATO member states pledged their support for a force of 228,500 with an estimated annual budget of $4.1 billion. There are currently 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police battling the ongoing insurgency.

Frustration 

At Combat Outpost Zormat in Paktia Province this summer, a general sense of frustration has set in among most troops.

“That’s all we are — big brothers with guns making sure that the big bully doesn’t beat up our little brothers on their way to school,” says Staff Sgt. Anderson, describing the attitude of many soldiers in his company. 

Despite such frustration, many soldiers point out both the gradual progress as well as the ambiguity in dealing with Afghan Security Forces. According to a US corporal, “It’s hit and miss with the Afghan National Army. There are some good units, and then there are some units who run at the first shot.”

Afghan National Army units engaged in continuous skirmishes with the Taliban are better trained and disciplined than units stationed in more secure areas, he says. “The ANA in hot areas are solid. They know that they have to fight or die.”

Brothers

Still, there are examples of successful cooperation among Afghan soldiers with US troops.

“US and Afghan soldiers are brothers,” says Afghan Maj. Mohammad Jan, commander of an Afghan company near the town of Kaligu.

Jan has experience with another great power that came to Afghanistan: He studied at Moscow’s military academy and fought in the Soviet-trained Army in the 1980s and early '90s. Jan pointed out that the biggest difference between US and Soviet advisers is that the Soviets insisted on doing their missions on their own.

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