It's officially an epidemic. Attacks from within the Afghan security forces have killed a record number of international troops this year. As of October 2012, a total of 55 fatalities were reported as a result of these "insider," or "green-on-blue" attacks -- which now account for an astonishing 15 percent of all coalition casualties this year.
Not surprisingly, the insider threat has had a profoundly negative effect on the partnership between international and Afghan forces, just as the NATO-led coalition is preparing to end its mission. In September, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) took Afghan partners and international allies by surprise when it announced the temporary suspension of joint patrols and operations. About a week later, cooperation resumed, but the effect of this move still reverberates both in Afghanistan and beyond. As outgoing ISAF commander, Gen. John Allen, told CBS's 60 Minutes in a recent interview: "We're willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we're not willing to be murdered for it."
What has become clearer with the news of each successive attack is that insider violence is now having a strategic effect on the coalition's plans for withdrawal. Nothing underscores the perceived futility of the NATO mission in Afghanistan than Afghan allies who kill scores of international troops. As such, they already have an impact on the transition, which may end up being fast-tracked if Washington or Kabul can't figure out a way to stem the problem.
It is a problem that has most NATO members with a troop presence in Afghanistan considerably worried. Consequently, the issue has been addressed on the highest levels. At the NATO conference early this month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sought to reassure his allies that steps were being taken to address the issue: "We can only deny the enemy its objective by countering these attacks with all of our strength." In mid-August, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, flew in for talks with ISAF commander General Allen and his Afghan counterpart, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi. Even U.S. President Barack Obama was forced to admit there was something rotten in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan when he addressed the issue at an August news conference, albeit in passing.
The string of insider attacks has left NATO scrambling to find effective countermeasures. But there's no easy solution. The causes for these attacks are manifold, attributed to a potent mix of insurgent infiltration, resentment, radicalization, and combat stress. However, there is no clear explanation as to why this disturbing trend has surfaced with such vehemence. In 2011, coalition forces lost 31 service members in attacks committed by Afghan security personnel. In 2010, the year of the troop surge, insider attacks accounted for 21 coalition casualties. In a message to celebrate the end of this year's Ramadan, Taliban leader Mullah Omar claimed the successful penetration of the Afghan security forces was part of a comprehensive plan to subvert the international strategy. The veracity of the message could not be confirmed, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also offered similar statements to that effect.
Some analysts say the green-on-blue attacks are a side effect of the externally induced growth of the Afghan security forces, which are being rapidly stood up as U.S. troops prepare to leave. In just three years, they have grown from 163,000 in March 2009 to 350,000 in March 2012. In order to muster this enormous amount of personnel, both the Afghan security forces and the coalition have had to lower their sights. Haphazard vetting and superficial background checks were a logical consequence. The coalition recently said it thought about 25 percent of all reported insider attacks were related to insurgent infiltration. But particular flashpoints may have also contributed to the spike in attacks. Incidents like the accidental burning of Qurans at Bagram Air Field in February or the Panjwayi massacre in Kandahar earlier this year have done much to antagonize significant parts of the population and by extension, members of the Afghan security forces.