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Concerns about disloyal Afghan security forces are deepening after an Afghan soldier and local police officer yesterday killed three members of the international coalition, known as ISAF, that is seeking to build up the Afghan security forces.
The head of ISAF sought to ease pessimism about the ability of Afghan forces to take over from coalition troops as they prepare to withdraw by 2014, saying that while such attacks are upsetting, they are typical in a conflict like this and do not indicate failure.
There are also signs, however, that Afghan soldiers are not only a threat to coalition troops, but also to their own government. The New York Times reports that nearly a dozen suicide vests were found at the Afghan Ministry of Defense yesterday, in what Afghan and Western officials believe was a plot to bomb buses carrying employees home.
The ministry flatly denied the reports of a foiled suicide plot, describing it as a false leak.
"This is completely inaccurate and we deny all the information and details regarding this suicide plot. None of the suicide vests were found, no one was arrested, and the ministry did not shut down," Dawlat Waziri, deputy for the spokesman of the Ministry of Defense, told the Monitor.
The Times notes concerns that the alleged plot may have been intended as the opening volley in a new season of Taliban attacks.
The security breach took place in one of the most fortified parts of Kabul, less than a mile from the presidential palace and the headquarters of the American-led coalition. It raised the prospect that the Taliban, which launched a series of high-profile attacks inside Kabul last year, plans to pick up where it left off as winter snows give way to spring, clearing the high mountain passes and opening the annual fighting season.
Compounding the fears of renewed violence in Kabul was the apparent complicity of Afghan soldiers in the plot. Afghan soldiers and police have been killing their colleagues from the American-led coalition at an alarming rate in recent months – only hidden bombs, the so-called improvised explosive devices, have killed more coalition service members this year.
The Wall Street Journal reports that 16 coalition members have been killed so far this year in such incidents, and 80 total since 2007.
Nine of those deaths came after last month’s burning of Qurans – said to include notes between prisoners – on an American base. After the incident, the Taliban urged Afghan forces to focus their anger on their coalition counterparts. Coalition commander Gen. John Allen acknowledged that the Quran burning was a factor in a recent slew of such attacks, the WSJ reports.
General Allen said yesterday that while such incidents are tragic, they are to be expected and do not mean the whole operation is flawed, The Telegraph reports.
"I'm not saying things are perfect, and much work remains to be done. But for every bribe accepted, and for every insider threat or what is known as a green-on-blue incident – and I think you're aware that, tragically, we had one overnight, as two young British soldiers were killed in the Helmand province – for every one Afghan soldier that doesn't return from leave, I can cite hundreds of other examples where they do perform their duties, where the partnership is strong," General Allen said.
"We should expect that this will occur in counter-insurgency operations, and as we saw it in Iraq and as we've seen it historically in counter-insurgencies, but also in Vietnam. It is a characteristic of this kind of warfare," General Allen said.
Western military officials had heralded the Afghan local police as a success story, and a group that had not participated in the so-called “green on blue” attacks. The police force, recruited locally and trained by US Special Operations forces, is seen as the “cornerstone” of the US exit strategy, according to the WSJ. The Afghan who attacked an American unit in Paktika province yesterday is believed to be a member of the local police force.
Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the governor of Kandahar, the province where a US soldier allegedly killed 17 Afghan civilians earlier this month, said that despite coalition efforts to soothe tensions, public anger is still high. There may yet be a backlash, although reaction has so far been muted.
Zubair Babakarkhail in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.