Hostile fire: U.S. troops should not have to fear Afghan trainees
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The rising death toll of American military trainers at the hands of Afghan trainees calls into question again the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
A declining number of American trainers are preparing a rising number of Afghans in the skills needed to assure order and security as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw. The process is intended to be completed by 2014.
Afghans, however, are turning their weapons on their trainers and other NATO coalition forces, with 10 U.S. troops killed in August and 26 this year (39 overall for NATO coalition forces in 2012). U.S. personnel are now spending time and energy watching, rather than teaching, the Afghans. In every group of Americans now is a "guardian angel," in principle unknown to the Afghans, who is assigned to protect the trainers.
Why are the Afghan recruits and others doing this? Two possible answers have troubling implications. The first is that the Taliban are infiltrating the Afghan forces. If that is the case, then Afghan recruiting and U.S. screening procedures are flawed.
The second is that the cultural differences between Afghans and Americans prevent the groups from working together, particularly in a training relationship. The kind of hands-on discipline that is involved in Americans teaching a recruit how to handle a weapon and fight on the battlefield as part of a coordinated group may produce a level of interpersonal friction that may cause the Afghan trainee to attack the American trainer.
Neither of these explanations comes with an easy or even viable solution to the problem.
On Sunday Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta phoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to ask him to pay closer attention to this growing problem. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, has travelled to Afghanistan to address the issue with Afghan authorities and American forces.
Perhaps this training policy belongs on the list of other failed U.S. policies in Afghanistan. It could be one more reason that the United States should declare it has done as much as it can, cut its losses and leave before 2014 on an accelerated schedule.
First Published August 21, 2012 12:00 am