U.S. may be under-reporting Afghan attacks
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WASHINGTON -- The military is underreporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on U.S. and other foreign troops.
The U.S.-led coalition routinely reports each time a U.S. or other foreign soldier is killed by an Afghan in uniform. But The Associated Press has learned it does not report insider attacks in which the Afghan wounds -- or misses -- his U.S. or allied target. It also doesn't report the wounding of troops attacked alongside those who were killed.
Such attacks reveal a level of mistrust and ill will between the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan counterparts in an increasingly unpopular war. The United States and its military partners are working more closely with Afghan troops in preparation for handing off security responsibility to them by the end of 2014.
In recent weeks, an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of U.S. soldiers but missed the group entirely. The Americans quickly shot him to death. Not a word about this was reported by the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, as the coalition is formally known. It was disclosed to the AP by a U.S. official who was granted anonymity to give a fuller picture of the "insider" problem.
ISAF also said nothing about last week's attack in which two Afghan policemen in Kandahar province fired on U.S. soldiers, wounding two. Reporters learned of it from Afghan officials and from U.S. officials in Washington. The two Afghan policemen were shot to death by the Americans present.
Just last Wednesday, an attack that killed a U.S. Army special forces soldier, Staff Sgt. Andrew T. Brittonmihalo, 25, of Simi Valley, Calif., also wounded three other U.S. soldiers. The ISAF reported the death as an insider attack, but made no mention of the wounded -- or that an Afghan civilian also was killed. The attacker was an Afghan special forces soldier who opened fire with a machine gun at a Kandahar province base. He was killed by return fire.
That attack apparently was the first by a member of Afghan special forces, who are more closely vetted than conventional Afghan forces and often described by U.S. officials as the Afghan military's most effective and reliable.
Coalition officials do not dispute that such non-fatal attacks happen, but they have not provided a full accounting.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department reported Monday that the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan faces "long-term and acute challenges" because of militant sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan and "widespread corruption" in the Afghan government.
"The insurgency remains a resilient and determined enemy, and will likely attempt to regain lost ground and influence this spring and summer," the department wrote in a semi-annual report sent to Congress. "Additionally, the Afghan government continues to face widespread corruption that limits its effectiveness and legitimacy."
Also Monday, Afghan officials said three children were killed and three wounded in crossfire when Taliban insurgents attacked a team of U.S. soldiers in southern Afghanistan. The U.S. soldiers were meeting with residents in the Shajoe district of Zabul province in hopes of persuading the community to form its own police unit. Many children had gathered around the soldiers when the insurgents attacked, said Muhammad Jan Rasoolyaar, deputy governor of Zabul.
The insider threat from Afghan soldiers has existed for years, but has grown more deadly. Last year, there were 21 fatal attacks that killed 35 coalition service members, according to ISAF figures. That compares with 11 fatal attacks and 20 deaths the previous year. In 2007 and 2008, there were a combined total of four attacks and four deaths.
ISAF has released brief descriptions of each of the fatal attacks for 2012 but says similar information for fatal attacks in 2011 is considered classified and thus cannot be released.
U.S. military spokesman James Graybeal disclosed Monday in response to repeated AP requests that in addition to 10 fatal insider attacks so far this year, there have been two others that resulted in no deaths or injuries, plus one attack that resulted in wounded, for a total of 13 attacks. The three non-fatal attacks had not previously been reported.
Asked to explain why non-fatal insider attacks are not reported, Mr. Graybeal said the coalition does not disclose them because it does not have consent from all coalition governments to do so.
First Published May 1, 2012 12:00 am