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Friend or foe: green on blue killings in Afghanistan

Australian troops with Afghan elders in Uruzgan province. AAP/Department of Defence

Reports are coming in this morning that five* Australian troops have been killed in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan.

But instead of falling victim to an IED, signature weapon of this long running conflict, it appears three of the Diggers may have been killed by a new and troubling Taliban tactic: shot by Islamic guerrillas masquerading as members of the Afghan security forces, allies of the international forces.

There is another war going in Afghanistan: the “green on blue” war. It is propagated by attacks against the allied troops by members of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and security services.

Just this week, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General John Allen, said he still doesn’t know why NATO troops continue to die at the hands of the Afghan forces they mentor. He said it was something to do with asking Muslim agents to fight during the holy period of Ramadan.

Doesn’t it seem odd that senior allied military leaders do not understand why Afghan soldiers might turn against them and their troops?

There is a generous take. If you are a combatant who has sacrificed their freedom of lifestyle to fight a war for whatever reason you have an investment in believing in your task. You also have a strong investment in shielding yourself, or ignoring the dissonance that comes with critical thought about your place in that war. The phrase “take it one moment at a time” is often employed in such circumstances.

But when reality kicks in one must look at the context.

The Afghanistan War emerged from the neo-conservative crusade against the “Muslim terrorist”. The September 11 World Trade Centre attacks unleashed a neo-conservative program of global reform beginning in Afghanistan and moving to Iraq.

There is great contradiction in this dream of the United States, brought into particular relief under the previous Bush regime. In true United States tradition its leaders propounded freedom, democracy and global wealth: values its military and development adventures profoundly contradict.

Three Australian troops killed in the last day, ten NATO troops killed in the last 2 weeks, and many more over the past few years. Since Western or allied troops have set foot in Afghanistan there have been a series of incidents where ANA troops have turned their guns on occupying forces: 2011 saw 35 deaths, there have been 40 to date in 2012.

The catafalque party stands guard around Lance Corporal Andrew Jones’s coffin during his funeral in Melbourne. LCPL Jones was killed in a green on blue attack in May 2011. AAP/Australian Department of Defence, SGT William Guthrie

Are our leaders really ignorant of why such attacks occur? Or is it impossible to prosecute such a military adventure while knowing that those that have tried before have failed miserably? Or that your military capacity, including the development program that sits alongside, is not a universal gift to the conflicted nation, and can very rarely bridge the cultural divide that structures profound geo-political inequalities?

An ANA Officer, on the other hand understands entirely. Major Hasanzada explained that explicit racism, arrogance and disrespect is growing among the allied troops. We have seen it in our own media reporting, Australian troops using terms such as “sand nigger”, “dune coon” or “raghead”. But Hasanzada explains that these sentiments are growing, and so is the divide between allied and ANA troops. US marines urinating on dead Taliban or burning the Koran do not build good relations.

The Taliban are well aware that allied troops are preparing their withdrawal, and that the unprepared ANA will be taking on the vast task of securing Afghanistan, a task that no wealthy nation has achieved, and a task that will be handed over to an under resourced and under prepared Afghan defence force. Green on blue attacks are a covert and deadly strategy.

Then of course, the incidental deaths from imprecise bombing campaigns, overzealous “crusaders” or the often imprecise kill/capture raids generates anti Western sentiment.

Taliban leaders explain that the relative strengthening of the ANA pre US withdrawal provides for the strategy of infiltrating these defence force with sleepers. When the time is right the Taliban agent whose intent to kill is camouflaged by their ostensible service for the right cause strikes, killing some but more effectively feeding this growing divide and destabilising the pacification effort.

Are the allied military leadership, and our political leaders really so perplexed as to why the ANA turn against the allied troops? I think the answer is yes - with qualification.

The power of culture, and belief, is such that the powerful come to see everything on their terms: “if we think it is good then it must be”. So much so that the Western militarism and exploitation inherent in the occupation of Afghanistan is wound up in a misguided benevolence.

Benevolence can be as damaging and destructive as any will to violence.

* This article has been updated. Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, this afternoon confirmed five Australian soldiers have been killed in 24 hours, three in the rogue attack and two in a helicopter crash.

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