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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Cultural Insensitivity Contributes to ‘Insider’ Afghan Attacks, Says U.S. Military Officer
Cultural Insensitivity Contributes to ‘Insider’ Afghan Attacks, Says U.S. Military Officer
By Sandra I. Erwin

A recent spike in deadly attacks by Afghan soldiers and police trainees against their NATO allies could be attributed to pent-up frustrations from years of U.S. military occupation, said a U.S. Army Special Forces officer who has served multiple tours in Afghanistan.

In the wake of a string of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks against NATO forces, there is growing concern that the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan — to train and equip local military and police forces to take over security duties by 2014 — could be at risk. U.S. special operations commanders last week temporarily ceased training until all 16,000 Afghan police recruits are vetted. At least 45 NATO troops have been killed by Afghan trainees.

Army Special Forces Maj. Fernando Lujan, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said these rogue incidents could have been predicted based on lessons from years of working with Afghans. “Everyone is talking about green-on-blue attacks. That is something that we have had a lot of direct experience with in the field,” Lujan said Sept. 4 during a panel discussion hosted by the Center for National Policy, in Washington, D.C.

“Friction [has been] generated as a result of a large force presence,” said Lujan. The contrast between NATO and Afghan force size and wealth, too, can be overwhelming for some recruits, he said.  

“When you have a force ratio of 100 Americans sitting on a base to 20 Afghans living in straw huts,” a sense of humiliation could drive an Afghan to commit a violent act, Lujan said. “We forget they’ve been living there for six or seven years with limited opportunities to see their families. And we’re there with all the advantages that we have,” he said. “It gets very easy to forget about what they think, consider their opinion and bring them onboard for planning,” Lujan said.

NATO commanders, who are under extraordinary pressure to deliver results and turn over security responsibilities to the locals, might not be aware of the built-up anger, Lujan suggested. The typical attitude of NATO trainers is, “give me six Afghans to go on patrol,” Lujan said.

The use of a Western model for basic training also can be source of deep unhappiness for Afghans and could ultimately drive them to turn on their trainers, he said. U.S.-style basic training — a mix of direct orders, physical punishment, yelling and screaming — doesn’t fit well in a “shame and honor based society,” Lujan said. “We live in the coziness of a rule of law society,” he said. For Afghans, “perceptions of insults to their honor can be very serious,” he said. “Those factors add up. They add to the friction.”

One of the lessons from this experience is that sometimes a smaller force can be more effective, said Lujan. “There is an argument for operating with a smaller footprint,” he said. “We saw that in Colombia,” where the United States deployed a force of just 400 to help train local counterdrug units. At its peak, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan exceeded 100,000.

Having fewer resources creates a more collaborative environment, Lujan said. It “drives cooperation. … You have to work with partners. It drives creativity without pulling your weight around.”

During previous tours in Afghanistan, Lujan’s teams patrolled with Afghans in small groups. “They took care of us,” he said. “They really value the notion of sanctuary and hospitality. If you’re there as a guest to work with them, that is a completely different dynamic than when they see a slave and master [relationship], or an occupation,” he said. “If you start to appear as an occupier, throw your weight around and bully them, they’ll react completely differently. That is the unseen danger.”

The Pentagon, meanwhile, is seeking to downplay the impact of insider attacks on NATO's mission in Afghanistan. Defense Department spokesman George Little said Sept. 4 that NATO training of the Afghan army and Afghan national police forces "continue unabated."

The goal remains to train and field 352,000 Afghan forces by October, Little said. "We remain on track to reach that milestone.  ISAF, working with the Afghan government, is exploring counterintelligence initiatives to thwart insider threats and is working to develop joint protection plans. ... Fundamentally, our partnership with the Afghan military remains very strong, and our service members continue to train and work alongside Afghan partners every single day."

Photo Credit: Army


Re: Cultural Insensitivity Contributes to ‘Insider’ Afghan Attacks, Says U.S. Military Officer

When the Blues attacked the Greens with all its military might in 2011, it had no idea that the tide could turn in an opposite direction. So far it had pinned all its hopes, and bet all its dollars, on the loyalties of Afghan forces. With the alarming shift of positions, it is not difficult to predict the fate of very cherished endgame. Read more at:
Passive Voices at 9/5/2012 4:55 AM

Re: Cultural Insensitivity Contributes to ‘Insider’ Afghan Attacks, Says U.S. Military Officer

Offense intended 18A Major Fernando Lujan:  so Lujan turns this around and blames us for the green-on-blue? No mention of HQN, Taliban? No mention of misguided Muslim extremism? No mention of Afghanistan corruption? No mention of our attempts to "help" get spit on no less than 100m outside our gates? Get  back here to Afghanistan Lujan and quit trying to influence policy. Let the adults handle this war, mkay, thx.
Mike Murphy at 9/5/2012 10:56 PM

Re: Cultural Insensitivity Contributes to ‘Insider’ Afghan Attacks, Says U.S. Military Officer

 “If you start to appear as an occupier, throw your weight around and bully them, they’ll react completely differently. That is the unseen danger.”.....
What could possibly be 'unseen' in that ? The US IS the occupier - the US  might have more success if they stopped being so arrogant and condescending..Would you believe some of this stuff? 
Janine at 9/6/2012 3:46 AM

Re: Cultural Insensitivity Contributes to ‘Insider’ Afghan Attacks, Says U.S. Military Officer

@Mike Murphy: Thanks for your comments.  Actually was making the argument that cultural friction was part of the problem, not the sole reason.  As you note, there are absolutely efforts to infiltrate ANSF by TB, HQN, etc. in addition to past examples of criminal 'score settling' between various factions, reactions to our own anti-corruption efforts.  But these don't paint a complete picture.  The Surge has allowed us to move into areas that we could never control and take away TB momentum, but at the same time when we're not careful it increases the chance that we're seen occupiers instead of guests--especially when 18/ 19 year old conventional U.S. soldiers are the ones doing the interaction.  (Not selected/ trained for advisory mission)  I am headed back to Afghanistan in a few months- but we'll have to agree to disagree about a uniformed officer's professional obligation to inform/ advise decision makers about 'on the ground' realities to balance some of the misinformation that tends to circulate in D.C. amongst those that have not served overseas.  Anyway, here is a longer piece that I wrote on the subject (as opposed to being excerpted from a panel discussion):    Happy to discuss further offline if you'd like (my email is listed in the article).  Thanks again.  DOL, Fernando
Fernando at 9/10/2012 12:21 PM

Re: Cultural Insensitivity Contributes to ‘Insider’ Afghan Attacks, Says U.S. Military Officer

Mike Murphy, the vast majority of these attacks are not related to HQN or TB infiltration.  Countless man hours have been devoted to investigating these attacks, but clearly you know better than a Field Grade Special Forces officer who has researched the matter and has a fairly solid grasp on what motivates the people in the question. I cringe to think you're in AFG right now, because from the tone and tenor of your commentary, I suspect you're building up anger in your HN counterparts as we speak.
Voodoo at 9/10/2012 3:46 PM

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