Commentary Magazine


“Green on Blue” Deadlier than Pentagon Lets On

We can be thankful that most Obama administration officials have finally abandoned their silly notion that an inane and bigoted film was responsible for the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the well-coordinated assault on several American embassies and consulates. The attacks were premeditated and motivated more by ideology than by grievance.

Perhaps it’s time the Pentagon accept that the same holds true with “Green on Blue” violence or “insider attacks,” in the new Pentagon parlance. (As an aside, it’s always a bad sign when the Pentagon spends more time fighting over what to call American enemies than to defeating them; the amount of time spent during the Iraq war arguing about whether the insurgents were “insurgents,” “anti-Iraqi forces,” “terrorists,” or “jihadists” was downright silly).

I recently returned from a couple of weeks in Germany and Romania working with both U.S. and NATO units deploying to Afghanistan. The “Green on Blue” problem loomed large. It is absolutely essential U.S. and NATO troops treat Afghans with respect; we are guests in their country, after all. And it is also true that mindless acts such as burning the Koran are self-defeating, as is any incident which publicly humiliates Afghan soldiers. Afghans and Americans do not share the same interpretations of honor. It may be comforting to believe that if only American soldiers were more culturally sensitive, then Green on Blue attacks would disappear, but that is not the case. While the Pentagon keeps track of such attacks where Americans and our NATO partners are killed, we too often ignore the fact that just as many, if not more, Afghans are killed by fellow Afghans in such attacks. Surely that suggests the problem is not culture or respect, but rather something different. That something is a radical Islamist ideology preached by the Taliban.

The number of Green on Blue attacks is also under-counted for two reasons: Generally, the Pentagon only counts successful attacks. And also, when an Afghan-on-Afghan attack occurs, seldom will the attackers’ colleagues acknowledge any suspicion that they were Taliban and instead attribute motivation to insanity. The reason is simple: To acknowledge that the guy bunking next to you was working for the enemy could lead suspicious Americans to detain you as well.

There needs to be a greater discussion about the Green on Blue phenomenon and how it can be stopped. Certainly, something is very wrong in the vetting process and perhaps also in training. The Taliban’s strategy is successful because it undercuts U.S. and NATO willingness to move forward with the train-and-assist mission, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of the post-2014 strategy. False statements of progress wear thin, however, because the metrics the Pentagon bases them on are increasingly irrelevant to the strategy the Taliban pursues.