Small Wars Journal

NATO Advisors Withdrawn from Afghan Ministries after 2 Officers Killed

Sat, 02/25/2012 - 7:23pm

The Washington Post reports:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Saturday recalled all NATO personnel working in Afghan ministries in the Kabul area — a bold and potentially divisive response to the killing of two American service members by an Afghan security official in the country’s fortified Interior Ministry earlier in the day.

Reuters reported that President Obama and Secretary of Defense Panetta expressed their support for the decision by ISAF commander General John Allen.  The move highlights the growing tension, mistrust, and antipathy between ISAF and some of their Afghan partners that peaked over a Quran burning incident earlier this week.  The coming week will be very telling as the sides chart their way ahead in a relationship that is strained and has a limited future.

Categories: ISAF - COIN - Afghanistan - advisors



Mon, 02/27/2012 - 11:22am

In reply to by MoorthyM

The report "A Crisis Of Trust And Cultural Incompatibility" by Dr. Bordin (link provided below) describes a catastrophic situation that is getting worse. The author minces no words about this and states "We have very often been our own worst enemy in winning the allegiance of the Afghans." He describes the ISAF senior leadership's way of looking at the ANSF with this sentence, "Reliance on euphemistic language, intuitive speculations and hopeful pronouncements has all too often replaced critical analysis, objective assessments and accurate reporting."

This situation is mostly caused by things that are within the control of the ISAF, from night raids to air strikes repeatedly hitting the wrong people to tolerance of ANSF and gov corruption and criminal behavior and insistence on numbers over quality in recruiting ANSF forces. The magnitude of the problem is staggering. From Nov 29, 2010 to May 12, 2011, 33% of all ISAF non-IED caused combat deaths were murdered by the ANSF, 33% murdered by ASNF people.

A main point is that these killings are prompted by ANSF anger at ISAF troop behavior that results in "unnecessarily offending Afghans with various abrasive policies or course behaviors that most any people would find offensive." This is troop behavior. Troop behavior is within the control of the ISAF. That is demonstrated by the finding that some ISAF forces do not provoke such extreme resentment, the Marines, Canadians, women and especially the ETTs.

In my simplified world one of THE primary rules of fighting small war is you don't unnecessarily piss off the people. That is what we are doing. We are blowing this. The Taliban doesn't have anything to do with this part of the small war. All they have to do is sit back and point out the things that we do or allow to go on.

None of this has anything to do with any attributes of Islam. It has everything to do with people being upset by bullying, arrogant and abusive foreigners whose leaders refuse to look for the truth.

(A technical side note of interest: the ANSF people do not like the M-16, because for them, it doesn't go bang when they pull the trigger. Some thought it was a castoff from WWII.)


Mon, 02/27/2012 - 1:09am

The crucial question overlooked in Dr. Jefferey Bordin’s report is whether certain attributes of Islam itself, mistaken as cultural influence, could be contributing to the distrust developed between Afghans and the deployed Americans.

In fact, the following study suggests that a feature of Islam called sharia may be the driving force behind the distrust that has developed:

It will do little justice to assume the so-called cultural incompatibility behind the attacks and put our soldiers at great peril, when the reality appears to be very different.

What I saw and heard during my time advising within MOD during 2010-11 leads me to believe that most incidents are probably personal, most likely from perceived insult, slight, or arrogance. It reminded me a lot of growing up in a small southern town - folks were outwardly fervent, strangers were suspicious, and insults always led to fights.

Contrast an adviser's sense of right/wrong, and the moral obligation to report corruption with an Afghan's need for increased revenue to pay back patrons and you have a likely recipe for green on blue. Book desecration just provides a spark, or a believable excuse.

Here is a link to study done by the Army about ANA and ANP personnell murdering ISAF personell. It is called "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility."

I haven't finished it yet but it is extremely interesting. This is not problem of small magnitude. A significant number of ISAF people are being murdered by ANA and ANP people, and the problem is getting worse.

An important conclusion is that these killings are not the result of ideology. The killers are mostly just ticked off at either perceived personal slights or at various incidents or patterns of behavior, night raids, convoy behavior, errant air strikes etc.

In Afghanistan we can do what we need to do (in terms of denying those who wish to attack us the infrastructure to do so) from the air.
It is clear that IF there are any locals who want to buy what we are selling, they are an infinitesimal and/or ineffective minority.
It is time to say adios.

I have had the course.

I've had the course with our civilian leadership that can't call a spade a spade. Afghanistan isn't significant in terms of national security. The problem they represented was dealt with by SF and the northern alliance. Since then it has been feel-good stuff, our domestic politics and inertia. If the Afghans don't care about their women and kids, how can we spend our kids and our money to do so? Should we?

I've had the course with senior officers crafting policies and ROE (whose perverse and invasive nature increases with each level down the chain of command). ROE that handcuff those who are outside the wire... that make their jobs both impossible and more dangerous.

I've had the course with line unit commanders who downgrade the performance of the local counterparts when they arrive in-country so that they can upgrade that performance at the end of the deployment show "progress" and get a good oer.

I've had the course with the idea that line units can be used in this fashion as effective counter-guerrilla elements.

Events and revelations of the past few months have laid bare a system of resume polishing by way too many field grade and higher officers that reminds me of Vietnam. Too many fake reports of progress, too many ROE tweaks to make sure you stay on the right side of those set up by HQ. Too many decisions taken out of the hands of the men on point so as to avoid upsetting the locals or your superiors. (Special note to Brigade CO's who feel the need to clear fire missions for platoons and companies in contact. You either need a new Battalion CO or we need a new Brigade Commander... or both)

Surely now it is clear that the locals don't (and probably won't) like us... they never do unless we win (and at that not for long).

Surely now it is clear that using line combat units in this role is like brain surgery with a cleaver or EOD with mittens. Does not work... and don't tell me about Anbar... no correlation except possibly both places have sand.

Look, when our backs are against the wall, there is no price too great to pay. That's part of the commitment you make when you take the commission.
BUT, when we are just positioning ourselves for the next slot and running out the clock, any loss is too great if it is your son or daughter. I know too many parents with a hole in their heart because of this kind of game playing and it needs to stop.

Bill M.

Sun, 02/26/2012 - 2:19pm

In reply to by mred

Credit is always due to those brave souls in the arena, and like many others in our nation and beyond I mourn their loss.

I also share the frustration and anger of others with many our senior leaders who deny reality in Afghanistan and continue to push a deeply flawed strategy that has further isolated us from the people of Afghanistan due to our support for an inept and corrupt government.

We identified good governance as a center of gravity, and then put brave souls at risk to help fix broken government. That would be appropriate in my view if we first allowed the Afghan people to replace the inept and corrupt leadership currently in power, and without doing so fixing the government is probably nothing more than an unrealistic hope despite putting some of our best and brightest in positions to do so.

We are the ones preventing the leadership from being replaced, because we stand in the way of that needed change. It seems we're still pursuing the cold war policy of "he may be a bastard, but he's our bastard."

The underlying rage amongst the Afghan people towards the occupation force that all too frequently erupts into a boil should be an indicator that our strategy needs adjusting. The burning of the Koran in the garbage pit probably would have resulted in riots regardless of whether or not the Afghans had effective governance, but not to this level.


Sun, 02/26/2012 - 1:20pm

In reply to by paternaad

This is not the first incident. Nine members of NTM-A's air training directorate were killed in April 2011 during an attack at South KAIA. One of the deceased was also an Afghan Hand.

Although I am not a hand, it was my experience while working with many that they come from widely varied backgrounds and experiences. Some were clearly cut out for the job, some clearly weren't. Its difficult for anyone to work in perpetually changing shades of gray where friends and thieves are often one and the same. Credit those who are willing to step into any such environment.


Sun, 02/26/2012 - 7:27am


It has been confirmed that one of the officers killed was an Afghan Hand. Interesting for this to happen to someone who would understand the issue and have empathy for the Afghans.