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Afghan Attacks Continue Against Coalition Allies


General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in Afghanistan today to meet with senior Afghan and coalition leaders. On the table for discussion will be the rising number of attacks on international forces by Afghans, in uniform or others with access to NATO bases. In southern Afghanistan yesterday, another American service member died when an Afghan police officer opened fire on him. He was the tenth U.S. service member killed in so-called insider attacks this month. Such assaults were rarely heard of a few years ago. This year they account for more than one in 10 deaths of NATO troops in the country. We reached NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul.

Soraya, good morning.


GREENE: So give us a sense of what we know about the Afghans who are carrying out these attacks against U.S. service members.

NELSON: Well, what we know for sure is that only a small number of these guys are Taliban infiltrators, despite what the group may claim. More often, you're talking about Afghan policemen or Afghan soldiers and occasionally civilian workers who have access to the bases where foreign troops are.

In the attack on Friday in Fatah Province, in the western part of the country, it was a newly recruited local police officer who had just been handed a gun by his American trainers, who then took that gun and killed them. And the shooter himself was killed, as was the one in yesterday's attack down in Kandahar Province, although a second shooter is reportedly still at large.

GREENE: OK, so the Taliban claiming that they're responsible for at least some of these attacks. If they are not, I mean if these are people acting on their own, what is prompting this?

NELSON: Well, that's a really tough question that NATO and Afghan officials are having an awfully hard time answering. Some of the NATO officials I've spoken to blame personal disputes. The Afghans in turn blame Taliban influence and battle fatigue. There was one senior Afghan recruiter I had talked to, who said even the most loyal soldier can grow pretty tired of the worsening economic situation here, corruption within the ranks, you know, constant fighting and insecurity.

These people may go home to their villages and become susceptible to Taliban claims that the NATO-led coalition is the devil that needs to be driven out. And there's also pressure to build Afghan security forces to a level that the NATO-led coalition can then hand over responsibility to them by 2014. So it's probable that the stringent vetting process for Afghans to join the police and military may not be followed in all areas because of this pressure.

And then last but not least, you're talking about cultural issues. This is a very conservative, deeply religious country where personal honor is a huge deal. So any misstep by a foreigner, offending these guys, can quickly snowball. Of course there's also a bit - we've had Ramadan just end here - that's, of course, the Muslim fast. That's been particularly difficult because of the long days, so you have troops not eating for 15 hours a day. And that also could have played a role.

GREENE: Well, you said - obviously, I mean there are so many questions - how to take precautions without offending, you know, other Afghan soldiers who are honest and not a threat. I mean I wonder what - what can NATO and the U.S. military do about this? I mean it must be an incredibly uncomfortable situation on some of these bases and very tense.

NELSON: It is very tense at the moment. And at this stage, the NATO commander, General John Allen, last week ordered all coalition troops to carry loaded weapons, even when on base. There are so-called guardian angels who are armed troops that watch over coalition mess halls, gyms and sleeping quarters. That's been going on for a while and has been stepped up.

And then also you have one or more armed soldiers, and the Afghans aren't told which ones, now monitoring them during any joint mission or meeting with coalition members.

GREENE: And Afghan forces, the Afghan government, I mean have they been asked to take new precautions as well?

NELSON: Well, they have been by the U.S. defense secretary, Leon Panetta. He obviously has not felt that there's been enough of a response. And he called Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai a few days back and urged him to work more closely with the U.S. military commanders on the ground to solve the problem.

But it's interesting to note that the Afghan public reaction to these shootings has been quite muted.

GREENE: And Soraya, there were other NATO troops killed yesterday in central Bamyan Province? That's an area that seems to be getting into the headlines now. What can you tell us about that attack?

NELSON: Well, the three that were killed were New Zealand troops. They're based in central Bamyan, what had been a relatively quiet province. They were in a Humvee, rolled over and IED, or roadside bomb, and were killed. And they bring to five the number of New Zealand troops killed this month, and that's half the total death toll that this contingent has had in the entire time they've been in Afghanistan.

So as a result, the New Zealand prime minister announced today that they would be withdrawing their troops from Afghanistan sooner than anticipated, in 2013.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson updating us on violence in Afghanistan. She's in Kabul. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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