Imagine for a moment that almost once a week for the last six months somebody somewhere in this country had burst, well-armed, into a movie theater showing a superhero film and fired into the audience. That would get your attention, wouldn’t it? James Holmes times 21? It would dominate the news. We would certainly be consulting experts, trying to make sense of the pattern, groping for explanations. And what if the same thing had also happened almost once every two weeks in 2011? Imagine the shock, imagine the reaction here.
Well, the equivalent has happened in Afghanistan (minus, of course, the superhero movies). It even has a name: green-on-blue violence. In 2012 — and twice last week — Afghan soldiers, policemen, or security guards, largely in units being trained or mentored by the U.S. or its NATO allies, have turned their guns on those mentors, the people who are funding, supporting, and teaching them, and pulled the trigger.
It’s already happened at least 21 times in this half-year, resulting in 30 American and European deaths, a 50% jump from 2011, when similar acts occurred at least 21 times with 35 coalition deaths. (The “at least” is there because, in May, the Associated Press reported that, while U.S. and NATO spokespeople were releasing the news of deaths from such acts, green-on-blue incidents that resulted in no fatalities, even if there were wounded, were sometimes not reported at all.)
Take July. There have already been at least four such attacks. The first, on July 1st, reportedly involved a member of the Afghan National Civil Order Police, a specially trained outfit, shooting down three British soldiers at a checkpoint in Helmand Province, deep in the Taliban heartland of the country. The shooter was captured. Two days later, a man in “an Afghan army uniform” turned his machine gun on American troops just outside a NATO base in Wardak Province, east of the Afghan capital Kabul, wounding five before fleeing. (In initial reports, the shooter in all such incidents is invariably described as a man “in an Army/police uniform” as if he might be a Taliban infiltrator, and he almost invariably turns out to be an actual Afghan policeman or soldier.)
Then, on July 22nd, a security guard gunned down three police trainers — two former U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and a former United Kingdom Revenue and Customs Officer (while another retired Border Protection agent and an Afghan interpreter were wounded). This happened at a police training facility near Herat in Afghanistan’s generally peaceful northwest near the Iranian border. The next day, a soldier on a military base in Faryab Province in the north of the country turned his gun on a group of American soldiers also evidently working as police trainers, wounding two of them before being killed by return fire.
Note that these July attacks were geographically diverse: one in the Taliban south, one east of the capital in an area that has seen a rise in Taliban attacks, and two in areas that aren’t normally considered insurgent hotbeds. Similar attacks have been going for years, a number of them far more high profile, including the deaths of an American lieutenant colonel and major, each shot in the back of the head inside the heavily guarded Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul; the killing of four French soldiers (and the wounding of 16) by an Afghan non-commissioned officer after an argument; the first killing of an American special forces operative by a U.S.-trained Afghan commando during a joint night raid; an elaborate attack organized by two Afghan soldiers and a civilian teacher at a joint outpost that killed two Americans, wounded two more, and disabled an armored vehicle; and the 2011 shooting of nine trainers (eight American officers and a contractor) in a restricted section of Kabul International Airport by an Afghan air force pilot.