IF THE Iraq war became known as the conflict that brought the horror of improvised explosive devices to global infamy, Afghanistan is quickly becoming the face of a new and even more insidious form of deadly violence – the insider attack.
Known in NATO parlance as green on blue (green represents friendly national forces and blue represents international forces), the attacks have increased dramatically this year. So far, 48 NATO troops – including the three Australians killed on Wednesday – have died in 31 separate attacks. This month, during Ramadan, 11 US soldiers were killed in nine days.
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The high number represents 14 per cent of all combat fatalities this year and though it is still only August, the figure is already significantly higher than last year, when 31 troops died.
The numbers are so high that some analysts claim they may represent the highest incidence of intentional friendly fire attacks in recorded military history. In response, this month the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, US General John Allen, ordered that all coalition soldiers carry loaded weapons, even at the larger "secure" bases, inside buildings and at meetings.
But the Afghan and US governments – and branches of the US administration – continue to disagree over what has caused the recent surge in attacks.
Last week the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, blamed “foreign countries” – a reference to Pakistan and Iran – for infiltrating the Afghan national army and brainwashing vulnerable or disenchanted soldiers.
For his Eid message, the Pakistan-based spiritual leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said his fighters had been instructed to infiltrate the Afghan national army and coerce Afghan soldiers to help attack coalition troops.
“Thanks to the infiltration of the mujahideen, they are able to safely enter bases, offices and intelligence centres of the enemy. Then, they easily carry out decisive and co-ordinated attacks, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy both in life and equipment.”
General Allen disagrees with that assessment, saying in a speech at the Pentagon last week that only a quarter of green-on-blue attacks were caused by Taliban infiltrators. Most stemmed from personal disputes, stress or cultural disagreements, he said.
The Pentagon has said the number of infiltrator attacks is 11 per cent. The President, Barack Obama, said his administration was deeply concerned about this.