Ever worry about a friend or relative serving in harm’s way? I do. It’s a dangerous world in which they live and work. A recent article at the MSNBC.com website gave me one more reason to be concerned. Friendly Fire! Here it is.
The point off the article is this. In recent years Afghan soldiers have repeatedly attacked their coalition allies, causing death and destruction, over 45 times if the statistics of this article are to be believed. As of this writing, 70 are dead and 110 injured in these attacks since 2007.
Today the military is presenting these facts to Congress. It will be interesting to be a fly on the wall and see what is said and also to see the reaction from Congress. According to the article, most of the attacks were motivated by personal reasons of the attackers, and some were Taliban and Al-Qaeda sympathizers in disguise. Regardless of the motivation, the threat is real and service members should take steps to protect themselves against their so called allies. Trust but verify. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
My twin brother, a Major in the Colorado National Guard, is going out in March on his fourth combat tour, his second in Afghanistan. In his first tour overseas, to Saudi Arabia, acting as the executive officer of an infantry company he had to bail out one of his platoon leaders and many of the soldiers of the platoon from a Saudi Arabian jail. The platoon leader, a young lieutenant, had taken it upon himself to use downtime to train his men in an unoccupied area of the desert, without live ammunition. It was just a drill, but it concerned the host nation enough that it resulted in their arrest. These are our allies we are talking about, who invited us to protect them and enforce the Iraqi No-fly zone! Sweet huh?!
In Afghanistan, Captain Griffith trained Afghanis in basic infantry tactics and rifle marksmanship. He found that many of the soldiers he was training were very poor marksman and repeated days at the range weren’t helping. He discovered by accident that the soldiers couldn’t even see the targets they were shooting at, they all needed glasses. An easy fix for the US, not so much for the third world state.
My brother led missions in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan and resisted the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces to remove their totalitarian influence from the region. He robbed local strongmen of their influence over the people by building freshwater wells. He built a school for girls and a monument to the fallen Afghani martyrs. He’s a hero who will tell you that he had full faith in the Afghani Allies he trained and served with. In the meanwhile he was always vulnerable to the one rogue soldier with questionable ties who may have an axe to grind. In the end, all of his efforts may well be for naught.
A year ago, an Afghani Airforce Colonel, Ahmud Gul, was reduced in pay and given a desk job because he couldn’t learn English. He retaliated against his allies by shooting and killing as many as he could. This was a top flight airman with years of experience, but he couldn’t adapt to the US style of training. (Maybe he should have had anger management training along with English?)
An article in McClatchy newspapers Jan. 21st said the Colonel shot many of his victims in the head at point blank range as they prepared for a class. He then wrote in blood on the wall outside the conference room “God is One” and “God is in your name” in Dhari.
A US Airforce Master Sergeant, Tara Brown, was in the room at the time and begged for her life before Gul shot her. Brown had reported to peers that she was constantly being harassed by Afghani soldiers and had resorted to showing the harassers her loaded 9-milimeter handgun to ward them off. She died later in the hospital the article said.
It’s not just soldiers and airmen who find themselves victims to this sort of attack. Civilians and government officials are also vulnerable. A CIA station chief and seven of her fellow CIA operatives were killed in Khost when an Afghani informant turned on them and killed them all with a suicide bomb vest. The UK’s Daily Mail hits the nail on the head with their analysis on this kind of devastating attack.
“The explosion casts a long shadow over Western plans to bolster the Afghan army and police, in order to eventually hand over security and bring their own troops home.
If an Afghan army official turned on the foreign troops and officials who are meant to be mentoring and partnering them, after a series of similar incidents this year, it will raise tough questions about trust and loyalty.”
Well said! Many of these stories are anecdotal but influence the larger scheme of things, casting long shadows as the Daily Mail reports on the relationship and trust between Coalition Allies and the Afghan Army. Our servicemembers should do everything in their power to protect themselves from this unfortunate contingency. As seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan as of late, the motives or our allies might not be the same as our own.
My brother won’t be training local Afghans this time, thank goodness. He’ll be tied to his Forward Operating Base, surrounded by battle hardened Marines, for which I am grateful. His mission will be using satellite technology to increase battlefield awareness for the Marines, keeping them safe. The danger for him might not be as great, but it still exists for his fellow patriots who serve outside the wire. For them I pray to the Almighty for their mission success and a safe return. Stay safe out their guys! Accomplish your mission and come home in one piece. We miss you.