In a surprise statement Thursday, a top Afghan official said that most "insider" attacks by Afghan troops against NATO allies are caused by Taliban infiltrators, a view that directly contradicts repeated claims by the Pentagon. At a press briefing at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister H.E. Jawed Ludin said he has known for years the true motivations of so-called "green-on-blue" attacks. “I think absolutely a majority of it is a terrorist infiltration in the ranks,” he said. “We’ve always believed this.”
The claim, recorded by The Washington Times Kristina Wong, is a big deal because the impetus behind insider attacks, which have killed more than 50 foreign troops this year alone, has long been attributed by U.S. defense officials to "personal grievances" and "cultural misunderstandings." The reason reporters keep asking the Pentagon why these attacks keep happening is not only because they result in the tragic deaths of Americans and their allies, but also because they threaten to undermine the entire exit strategy of NATO, a prospect emphasized on Monday when NATO's secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested the attacks could result in an early NATO withdrawal. "There's no doubt insider attacks have undermined trust and confidence, absolutely," he said. "From now until the end of 2014 you may see adaptation of our presence. Our troops can redeploy, take on other tasks, or even withdraw, or we can reduce the number of foreign troops." (The Pentagon, however, later said NATO remains committed to a 2014 withdrawal date.)
Punctuating Rasmussen's point, General John Allen went on 60 Minutes on Sunday saying he was "mad as hell" about the insider attacks. "We are willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we are not willing to be murdered for it." But if the attacks are as serious of an issue as everyone says, it's rather unsettling that a high-ranking ally of NATO has such a starkly different assessment of the source of the attacks than the official U.S. view. As recently as Aug. 23, Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said that only 25 percent of insider attacks were attributable to Taliban insurgents. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has also been reluctant to credit the insurgency, saying last month there is "no one source" of the attacks. "Our enemies have attempted to undermine the trust between the coalition and Afghan forces, and in particular they have tried to take credit for a number of so-called green-on-blue or insider attacks that have taken place this fighting season."
Ludin's comments today, however, did not seem to be off the cuff. He attributed the Taliban infiltration to the rush to meet NATO's goals of recruiting soldiers and police officers who make up the Afghan national security forces. “I suppose what happened in that process is that we perhaps overlooked some of the crucial screening requirements, and as a result, the enemy used that as an opportunity to infiltrate,” he said. “Infiltration has not been a new phenomenon.” This is not to say Ludin is right and the Pentagon is wrong. Others such as the New America Foundation's Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland, who have looked into the issue, have attributed the green-on-blue attacks to quarrels and cultural misunderstandings as well. Still, given the devastating impact these attacks are having, if Ludin really is speaking incorrectly, one would think he would be instructed to retract his statement. We've reached out to the Pentagon for comment.