Afghan suicide bomb scare highlights concern about 'insider threat'

Reports of suicide bomb vests inside the Afghan Department of Defense were eventually dismissed as false, but they pointed to US concerns about Taliban infiltrators or rogue troops attacking US soldiers or the Afghan government.  

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Marine Gen. John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan gestures during a news conference at the Pentagon Monday.

The reports forced a two-hour lockdown of the Afghan Department of Defense Tuesday: nearly a dozen suicide vests discovered hidden at the Afghan Ministry of Defense and an equal number of Afghan troops arrested for a possible terrorist attack this week.

In the end, Afghan officials deemed the reports false, but they ratcheted up growing concerns about an “insider threat” within Afghan forces. 

To some degree, the risk of Afghan troops turning against foreign troops or their own government is inherent in a counterinsurgency. Insurgents will seek to find ways to disrupt the very force being built to fight them.  

But with US troops apparently mistakenly burning Qurans in February and an American soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians in March, US forces are on high alert for reprisals from members of Afghan security forces – be they Taliban infiltrators or outraged troops. 

US military official say they are looking for ways to mitigate the threat.

“It is prudent for us to recognize that, as you know, revenge is an important dimension in this culture,” Gen. John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told reporters Monday in a Pentagon briefing. “So we would be prudent ourselves in looking for the potential for that to emerge.” 

Nearly a quarter of the deaths of coalition troops in Afghanistan have been the result of “green on blue” incidents of violence – Afghan security personnel attacking coalition troops. 

While Allen stressed that the relationship between the two allied forces “in many cases ... in fact in most cases ... is very strong,” he acknowledged that the US military has taken the “steps necessary on our side to protect ourselves.”

To lessen the opportunity for such violence on bases shared by Americans and Afghan national security forces, precautions include separate sleeping arrangements and “internal defenses to have someone always over-watching our forces,” said Allen.

Afghan forces are also being taught “how to recognize radicalization or the emergence of extremism” within their ranks through intelligence techniques, Allen said, adding, “There have been some breakthroughs, in fact, in Afghan investigations, in arrests that have been made of elements that have been found in the ranks that potentially could have been a perpetrator for a ‘green-on-blue.’ ” 

It is “no secret that the Taliban has had as an objective for some period of time infiltrating the ranks of both the ANSF [Afghan national security forces] and those elements that support us directly on board our camps,” Allen said. 

Yet such attacks are also a cost of waging a war in which the training of Afghan security forces is America’s exit strategy, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. 

Allen echoed those sentiments. “I think this is a characteristic of counterinsurgencies,” he said. “On any occasion where you’re dealing with an insurgency and where you’re also growing an indigenous force which ultimately will be the principal opposition to that insurgency, the enemy’s going to do all that they can to disrupt ... the integrity of the indigenous forces that developed,” he further warned. “We should expect that this will occur.” 

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.