US military personnel in Afghanistan have been instructed to "respect Islam, Koran or a mosque" and "Afghan women, elders and children" in order to prevent so-called "green on blue" attacks, where Afghan security forces turn their weapons on the coalition soldiers who have trained them, according to an unclassified Army pocket reference guide obtained by Truthout.
The reference guide, "Inside the Wire Threats - Afghanistan Green on Blue," referred to as a "smartcard," was distributed to US military personnel in early February, right around the time "green on blue" attacks started to increase, along with a detailed companion "handbook" under the same name, which Truthout is seeking from US Army Training and Doctrine Command under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The handbook, which the "smartcard" is based upon, was the subject of a previous FOIA request filed in April by conservative author Bob McCarty. Last week, McCarty withdrew his request after he was informed that a new FOIA exemption created with the passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes "critical infrastructure security information" to be withheld unless a requester can justify why the public interest outweighs the withholding of those types of records. McCarty declined to speak with Truthout about his decision.
Truthout obtained a copy of the "Inside the Wire Threats - Afghanistan Green on Blue" reference guide from a US military official who recently returned from Afghanistan. It is marked "For Official Use Only" and was approved by Maj. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, deputy chief of staff for operations, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghanistan. A US military official described the document as a "handy pocket tool that all troops in theater can fold up into fours and carry with them."
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The guide says "pre-deployment training," the incorporation of "inside the wire attack threads [sic] and scenarios" into "rehearsals and exercises" for combat training commands and marine training commands, and an "understanding of Afghan culture" in "your AO/AOR [area of operations/area of responsibility]" is essential in staving off "green on blue" attacks.
"The key is for local Commanders to prevent complacency and conduct risk assessments with Green on Blue in mind," states a quote from MacFarland that appears at the top of the four-panel reference guide.
Whether these and other recommendations have been implemented and acted upon is unknown. An ISAF spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
According to The Long War Journal, "green on blue" attacks have become an "emerging threat" in the 11-year-old Afghanistan war and have accounted for "13% (or 40) coalition casualties so far this year," ten of which have occurred over the past two weeks.
As of last week, 2,000 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan. Half of those casualties took place over the past two years, following the troop surge Obama announced in December 2009. Afghan's have suffered as well. Scores of civilians have been killed by international forces in "night raids," which only served to fuel the hostility toward the US occupation. Obama has set a deadline of 2014 for withdrawing the remaining US troops from the country and turning over security operations to Afghan forces.
Cultural Insensitivity to Blame?
At a briefing Thursday, Gen. John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, blamed the uptick in "green on blue" attacks on fasting during Ramadan, the "worst excuse yet," wrote blogger Jim White who has covered Afghanistan extensively for the Emptywheel blog.
"The ongoing push by the military to ignore the retroactively classified report explaining that extreme cultural insensitivity on the part of American soldiers plays a major role in Afghans turning their weapons on them continues to have a horrible fallout as more and more Afghans attack American and other NATO troops," White reported.
The report White referenced in his blog post, "A Crisis of Trust And Cultural Incompatibility," prepared by Jeffrey Bordin, a behavioral scientist working for the US Army in Afghanistan, first surfaced last May and warned Pentagon officials that attacks against US soldiers were turning into a "rapidly growing systemic threat," which Bordin blamed, in part, on a lack of respect for Afghan culture.
One recent incident that underscored such insensitivity, US officials admitted, was the incineration last year of Korans by US soldiers, which sparked widespread outrage in the country and led to more than three-dozen deaths, including two US soldiers. After the buring of the Korans, which Gen. Allen had said was accidential, he ordered all coaltion soldiers in Afghanistan to complete training in the "proper handling of relgious materials."
But Bordin's report, which was based on interviews with 600 Afghan troops, was harshly criticized and swiftly dismissed. Coalition spokeswoman Lt.-Cmdr. Colette Murphy told the Wall Street Journal Bordin's study was "systematically flawed, and suffered from generalizations, narrow sample sets, unprofessional rhetoric, and sensationalism." It was later retroactively classified.
Respect for Afghan culture, a recommendation in Bordin's report aimed at reducing the number of "green on blue" attacks, is also one of the key points in the reference guide.
In the "Friendly Forces Prevention Tools (Blue)" section of the reference guide, one of the bullet points says a "bond of trust" should be established "between ANSF and ISAF members" and that US troops should "avoid arrogance, i.e., belief that ISAF culture is superior to Afghan culture." Moreover, US service members should "maintain professionalism, respect, and dignity of ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] officers and soldiers."
"Avoid public rebukes; counsel in private jointly with ANSF chain of command," states another bullet point in that section, and "involve ANSF in patrol briefs, de-briefs, AARs [After Action Reviews], and social/sport activities."
Another bullet point says ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) need to "maintain uniform accountability to deprive insurgents from impersonating ANSF." Pentagon officials have blamed some of the green on blue attacks on insurgents who gained access to ANSF uniforms.
The prevention tools section goes on to advise US service members to maintain "positive control of personal weapons and ammunition" and "know and understand current weapon status."
According to CNN, citing unnamed sources, Allen recently ordered US forces to carry loaded weapons "around the clock" following the recent spate of "green on blue" attacks.
The reference guide instructs US military personnel to be wary of ANSF members who complain "about other nations or religions," display "abrupt behavioral shifts," "cuts ties with unit, family, friends" and defends "radical groups or ideologies." That is a sampling of a dozen "observable indicators" that would suggest an ANSF member could be planning a "green on blue" attack.
CNN published a report earlier this week about this section of the reference guide, which was "described" to the news network by a Defense Department official.
The guide also provides US military personnel with instructions on how to respond to a "green on blue" attack if they are armed: "Suppress, neutralize, and/or destroy target(s) while minimizing threat to friendly forces and limiting collateral damage to civilians," reads one bullet point.
If US soldiers are unarmed during a "green on blue" attack they should "execute rehearsed actions on contact," and "have an escape route and plan in mind - hopefully two." Under a "last resort" if there is an imminent danger to the US soldier's life, "act with extreme violence."
In the event of civilian casualties during a "green on blue" attack, one bullet point advises US service members to "share findings of investigation through Shura [an Arabic word for "consultation"] or other means; ISAF leaders must meet with Afghan leaders and encourage them to tell locals what happened."
"Make amends if necessary through: apology, compensation, referral to other agencies, or assistance" and "provide an explanation in the local language to Afghan media with ANSF IO [information officer] message out front," states two other bullet points.