August 22, 2012


Not to be confused with the Miles Davis song or dearly departed Philly eatery, green-on-blue violence is confounding U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and -- together with the 2,000th U.S. casualty -- has thrust the war back into the headlines here in the United States. I spoke about the killings this morning on public radio and wrote my final column for World Politics Review on the subject.*

These attacks are similar to the epidemic of military suicides in that we can discern an obvious pattern, but it remains difficult to determine what, precisely, is causing the problem. Once you dig deeply into each incident, they begin to seem sui generis -- each prompted by a unique set of circumstances. That makes them arguably more difficult to address than Taliban infiltration, which is a counter-intelligence problem for which we have some precedent. If these attacks instead represent a structural erosion in the relationship between coalition and Afghan forces, that's a lot tougher to fix.

A few things worth noting in addition to what I argued today in my column:

1. The United States may be in its eleventh year in Afghanistan, but a lot of soldiers and officers are fighting Year One. What I mean by that is that many of those serving in Afghanistan may have combat experience in Iraq but are new to Afghanistan. Contrast those folks, few of whom have any linguistic training or real cultural education, with Afghan forces who, in some cases, have been fighting in the same corner of the country for six or seven years. You could see how each could rub the other the wrong way. The Afghan might think the American arrogant and aloof, while the American might see the Afghan as lazy -- when in actuality he's just a little tired for having fought this war, in the same place, watching Americans come and go each year, for the better half of a decade.

2. I have said it before, but I will say it again. A "Green Beret" from the U.S. Army's Special Forces gets over a year of training before he ever steps foot in a foreign country. He receives specialized skills training and both language and cultural education. And he joins a small team that likely has decades of experience already. Contrast that soldier's training and selection process with the one we use for trainers and advisors recruited from the general purpose forces. The training we afford to the former is no guarantee of success. But you can never eliminate risk in war. What you can do is take measures to reduce and mitigate it.

*Also, since I am apparently the only analyst in Washington working this August, I was interviewed for earlier articles on the subject herehere, and here.

UPDATE: In the comments, my cousin -- who served as a combat advisor in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps BECAUSE HE EMBARASSED HIS FAMILY BY JOINING THE BLEEPING MARINE CORPS SERIOUSLYHOWCOULDYOU -- points me toward what he wrote a few days ago on his iPhone instead of spending quality time with his grandmother.