The United States is sharply reducing its “partnership” with Afghan national security forces (ANSF), including Afghanistan’s army, in the wake of a steady series of so-called green-on-blue attacks in which uniformed Afghans have killed US troops and other international forces. Among other things, this is likely to increase civilian casualties among Afghans between now and 2014.
Let’s unpack this: in recent days, besides the green-on-blue attacks, there have been several incidents of US forces killing Afghan civilians, including an airstrike over the weekend that killed eight women and children. As usual, NATO/ISAF inituially denied killing the women and girls, then admitted it, as CNN reports:
NATO admitted that it had killed Afghan civilians in an airstrike early Sunday morning, hours after saying there was no evidence of civilian deaths. “A number of Afghan civilians were unintentionally killed or injured during this mission,” the coalition said in a statement accepting “full responsibility for this tragedy.” NATO’s International Security Assistance Force “offers its sincerest regret to the families,” the statement said. The coalition first cast doubt on an Afghan official’s assertion that eight women were killed and seven more wounded in a coalition airstrike Sunday morning in Laghman province.
Only recently, as I blogged about, a NATO airstrike via a drone killed dozens of Afghans, presumably including civilians. As The New York Times reports, the cutback in partnering undermines the “training mission”:
After years of tightly intertwining its forces with Afghan troops, the American-led military coalition has sharply curtailed ground-level operations with the Afghan Army and police forces, potentially undercutting the training mission that is the heart of the Western exit strategy.
But it’s likely to have another effect, too. Because Afghan soldiers who accompany US troops often know more about Afghan culture, practices and so-called “patterns of life,” by going along with American soldiers the Afghans reduce civilian casualties by preventing attacks against non-insurgent Afghans and restraining Americans who might otherwise use force. According to an unreleased study, a team of analysts for CENTCOM—endorsed by General David Petraeus and General Stan McChrystal—concluded that operations which “partnered” with Afghan forces had a demonstrably lower rate of civilian casualties. Here’s the quote, from the study (which is marked UNCLASSIFIED/FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY), obtained by The Nation (with military acronyms explained):
Afghan forces were said to have an increased awareness of cultural cues that help them discriminate between who belonged in local areas and outsiders who may be more likely to be a threat. Additionally, partnered forces were able to better communicate directly with locals without using an interpreter. Forces stated that this language fluency aided KLE [Key Leader Engagement], improved the ease and speed of redress efforts, and helped with collecting HUMINT [human intelligence]. ANSF were seen as better able to understand the behavior of locals when they act in ways that Coalition forces find inexplicable. In some cases, partnering dissuaded the enemy from attacking Coalition forces because of concerns that ANSF would also be affected. ISAF Forces often found that both their patrols, and their response to CIVCAS [civilian casualties] incidents, were better received by locals when they were partnered with ANSF. In fact, partnering frequently gave an “Afghan face” to operations from the local population’s perspective. SOF [Special Operations Forces] forces found that ANSF were more effective at SSE [Sensitive Site Exploitation] because they could pick up on subtle cultural cues that Coalition forces often missed.
The study, called “Reducing and Mitigating Civilian Casualties: Afghanistan and Beyond,” has data to back it up. Now, all that’s being lost. More civilians will die.
For more on resistance to the US presence in the Middle East, check out Adam Baron’s dispatch from Yemen.