This week's talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama contain an ambitious agenda: negotiations on a new bilateral security agreement, U.S. troop levels after 2014, and peace talks to end America's longest war, among a host of other issues that imperil the future relationship between Washington and Kabul.
However, there's much more that requires discussion, including some delicate matters that both sides may be reluctant to tackle. Here are the five most important questions the two leaders should consider during Karzai's time in Washington.
1. Why are "green-on-blue" attacks -- Afghan soldiers targeting their American counterparts -- still occurring with such alarming frequency, despite robust efforts to stop them?
According to U.S. Defense Department figures, more than 50 coalition troops died from at least 37 such attacks last year. It's a problem that has grown in intensity, but not one that's entirely new: On Jan. 3, Foreign Policy released Pentagon PowerPoint slides describing years of efforts to screen and monitor Afghan recruits to prevent these sorts of attacks.
One possible explanation is that prevention strategies ignore a chief cause of these insider attacks -- cultural misunderstandings that escalate into disagreements and violence. NATO says that most insider attacks occur for this reason, while insurgent infiltration -- the main focus of the Pentagon slides -- accounts for only about a third of the cases.
Karzai and Obama should discuss more-effective ways to reduce these cultural clashes. The Afghan government distributes a guidebook to new recruits about the "culture of coalition forces." However, given the high level of illiteracy within the Afghan army (see below), the manual's effectiveness will likely be limited. And though U.S. troops receive instructions for how to interact with their Afghan partners, those forces working in closest proximity with Afghans should require extra training and, at the least, better advance screening for cultural sensitivity.