Exactly two weeks ago, in a surprise move, North Atlantic Treaty Organization decided to suspend training for the Afghan police recruits until reliable vetting processes are put in place and the counter-intelligence operations were strengthened by the Kabul authorities. This followed the rise in the attacks on the NATO forces by personnel of the Afghan military and the police — the so-caled “green-on-blue” attacks.
Until recently, NATO used to downplay the attacks as “isolated incidents”, but no more. Earlier today, NATO took matters further and made the stunning announcement that it is suspending indefinitely all joint operations
with Afghan units smaller than 800-strong battalions in response to the surge in “insider attacks.” It virtually means that as of today, NATO is snapping the umbilical cords tying the fledgling Afghan forces and telling Hamid Karzai, ‘Buddy, you’re on your own’.
Clearly, NATO is at its wit’s end. At least 51 soldiers have been killed by Afghan security personnel this year so far. This is a 40% increase compared to last year. The proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back was probably the weekend attack on the massive NATO base in Helmand
by over a dozen Taliban fighters wearing US military uniform, inflicting heavy losses estimated to the tune of 200 million dollars. A US Marine aviation officer told the Long War Journal website, “We couldn’t afford this loss.”
The Taliban seem to be raising the ante to force the US to return to the peace track. They also are upset at the US decision to “blacklist” the Haqqani group. In all probability, the Haqqani group staged the Helmand attack to show its muscle power and underscored the inevitability of engaging it as an interlocutor in any meaningful peace talks.
Without doubt, the NATO decision comes as a serious blow to Karzai at a sensitive juncture of the “transition”. One plausible explanation could be that the Pentagon is under pressure to keep American war casualty as low as possible lest it becomes a controversy for President Barack Obama in the presidential election campaign.
Clearly, the spike in “insider attacks” cannot be tackled unless the root cause is properly understood. Karzai insists that foreign intelligence (read Pakistan’s ISI) is behind these attacks. The NATO thinks that only a small percentage of attacks could be attributed to the Taliban whereas the bulk of these attacks has been staged by Afghan personnel who had their own personal grouse to settle. The truth probably lies somewhere else.
The Afghans could never countenance in their history the imperial occupation of their country. Call it “insider attack” or anything you like, but essentially it is the very same resistance or asymmetrical war that bled the British expedition white in the 19th century.
The NATO’s transition plan is to transfer security over to the Afghan forces. And now, things have come to a pass that the NATO can no longer trust the Afghan forces. Having said that, the one good thing to come out of the NATO decision could be that the mettle of the Afghan forces might get tested for the first time in actual operations without the air cover and other back-up that NATO routinely provided. Keep the fingers crossed.