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US Ends Joint Patrols With Afghan Security Forces

In a move that calls into question the continuation of the mission in Afghanistan, the US suspended joint military operations with Afghan security forces, after a spate of insider attacks that killed troops in the field.

“We’re to the point now where we can’t trust these people,” a senior military official said. So far this year, 51 NATO troops have been killed in these so-called blue-on-green attacks. Sunday’s attack came a day after two British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman, Reuters reported.

“It’s had a major impact on our ability to conduct combat operations with them, and we’re going to have to back off to a certain degree,” the official said.

The suspensions of the joint operations are indefinite – according to one official, they “could last three days or three months.”

Joint operations with higher-level Afghan forces may continue, but the Afghan Army and police forces will be segregated. There is a process for operations below the battalion level to be approved, but the regional commands would have to give the go-ahead. The patrols in question represent nearly 80% of all missions in Afghanistan.

This will perhaps get blamed on Muslim anger over the recent YouTube video that has allegedly inspired unrest at US Embassies around the world, but the insider attacks have been a problem all year.

The entire point of the joint operations was to transition to an Afghan-only security force by 2014. The entire withdrawal was predicated on standing up the Afghan forces, training them through these joint exercises. By suspending them out of a lack of trust, it’s unclear how the transition could proceed.

NATO now claims the restrictions will be temporary. But what happens the next time an Afghan security official turns his guns on his colleagues? The idea that the threat level will somehow reduce once the YouTube video controversy blows over doesn’t match with the year-long crisis of insider attacks.

I think what you’ll see is a run for the exits among NATO member states. France already wants to leave early, and there’s been talk in Britain as well. Despite a Presidential election going on, practically no discussion of Afghanistan has ensued in this country. The Republican Party thinks that Israel is the only other country in the world, apparently, and Democrats have ignored the awkwardness of prosecuting a war that its base finds distasteful.

The insider attacks are a big flashing red light telling the NATO coalition to just walk away. The Afghans don’t want this occupying force in their country anymore. If you can’t do joint patrols anymore out of fear of friendly fire, I think the writing is on the wall.

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David Dayen

David Dayen