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Australia's military suffered its worst 24-hour period of losses since the Vietnam War after five of its soldiers were killed in Afghanistan yesterday and today, including three murdered in an apparent "green-on-blue" attack – a trend that has seen significant growth this year.
The Australian Associated Press reports that three Australians were killed and two injured yesterday when a man in an Afghan National Army uniform opened fire on members of the Australian Mentoring Task Force Five at a patrol base in the southern province of Uruzgan. Two more were killed today when the US helicopter they were riding in rolled over upon landing in Helmand Province.
"It is a terrible day for all of us and our thoughts and prayers are for all those who are touched by these incidents," Air Marshal Mark Binskin told reporters in Canberra.
The death toll is Australia's highest in a 24-hour period since August 1966, when 18 of its troops were killed and 21 wounded in the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam.
But while drawing comparisons with Long Tan, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the losses would not dissuade Australia from seeing out its mission in Afghanistan, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
A visibly emotional Ms. Gillard pledged Australia cannot have its war aims dictated by ''even the most grievous of losses'' after the worst bloodshed for Australians in combat in decades.
"We are making progress. I can tell you that, I've seen it with my own eyes when I have visited Afghanistan,'' she said.
The Morning Herald notes that the Uruzgan attacker escaped.
"Green-on-blue" attacks – a reference to the Afghan military's green uniforms and NATO's blue uniforms – have been a growing problem for NATO forces in Afghanistan, reports Australia's News Limited Network.
According to data from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan policy institute in the US, such "from within'' attacks have already accounted for 14 percent of coalition casualties in 2012. The figure has steadily increased from 6 percent in 2011, 3 percent in 2010, 2 percent in 2009 and less than 1 percent in 2008.
The figures show there have been 55 attacks since the start of 2008, with 29 this year, and they have resulted in the deaths of 109 troops and left another 85 wounded.
Out of increasing concern about green-on-blue attacks, NATO has ordered its soldiers to carry loaded weapons at all times, reports The Washington Post. NATO said earlier this week that a quarter of the recent attacks have been carried out by Taliban and other militant plants within Afghan security forces, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai put the blame on foreign spies attempting to sow distrust between native and Western forces.
But the main cause of such incidents may in fact be cultural misunderstandings and distrust, The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this week. On Aug. 27, the Pentagon released the results of its investigation into the burning of several-score Qurans in Afghanistan in February, an incident that inflamed tensions between NATO and Afghan forces.
The investigation offers a sobering picture of the kind of distrust and cultural misunderstanding between US and Afghan forces that, in the case of the Quran burnings, led to deadly riots in Afghanistan. More generally, it helps to explain the growing number of so-called green-on-blue incidents, in which Afghan soldiers and police turn on their US and coalition counterparts. ...
[Gen. John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, last week] acknowledged – and most outside experts concur – that most of the “insider attacks” appear to be the result of growing resentments and frictions that build up as more recruits from a very conservative society are in close contact with the often young military personnel of a different culture.
The Monitor added that the US is stepping up predeployment cultural-sensitivity training to try and remedy the problem.