Three of the Army’s highest-ranking soldiers have gone to remote outposts in one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous districts in the last month to connect with Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers and answer their tough questions about the rising number of insider attacks.
The three leaders, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, met with U.S. soldiers in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province who are concerned about attacks from within the ranks of their allies in the Afghan security forces.
The visits from Odierno and two top enlisted officers show that the Army considers Panjwai the front lines of the war this year.
More than 50 Western service members have been killed and dozens more wounded by Afghan allies this year, including three Lewis-McChord soldiers who were shot to death last month by an Afghan police officer.
Insider attacks are also called “green on blue” killings, a term coined in other conflicts when host security forces would turn on blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeepers.
Insider attacks are especially damaging to NATO’s war plan because Western forces this year are focused on training their Afghan counterparts to fight insurgents once the U.S. withdraws most of its troops by 2014. In most cases, U.S. and Afghan soldiers work side by side on joint patrols.
“With all the green on blues, why are we still doing joint patrols?” one soldier asked Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler during his visit to Forward Operating Base Zangabad, according to an account in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
“I would assume we are still doing it because that’s what command tells you,” Chandler replied. “What should we do?”
“Not patrol with the Afghanis,” the soldier said.
Chandler told the soldiers the Army was adapting to the insider attacks. He asked them to focus on improving the performance of Afghan security forces.
“Overall there is a sense of a lack of trust, but you’ve got to rebuild that relationship, and I have a lot of confidence in these guys,” Chandler said.
The Panjwai district is a mostly rural area near Kandahar City. It’s considered Taliban heartland, and it’s a major focus of NATO’s campaign in southern Afghanistan this year.
Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division took responsibility for the territory in April. The brigade and its roughly 3,500 soldiers are due home by Christmas.
Another Lewis-McChord infantry brigade (the 2nd Brigade) is working in southern Afghanistan, and one more brigade (the 4th Brigade) is set to deploy to that country this fall.
Last month, Odierno stopped in Panjwai to speak with American and Afghan soldiers. He told both sides the growing number of insider attacks was on his mind.
“We’re working very hard to understand what are the right tactics, techniques and procedures. And also (we’re) ensuring that the Afghan commanders understand their responsibility to ensure that our soldiers working with them remain safe,” he said, according to an Army story about his visit.
Odierno was followed by a name familiar to Lewis-McChord soldiers and families: Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe, formerly the top enlisted officer in Lewis-McChord’s I Corps, also visited bases in Panjwai. He’s now the top enlisted officer at U.S. Central Command in Florida.
Grippe looked back to his 10 years in and out of Afghanistan to put the threat of insider attacks in perspective.
“We can’t let this issue fracture our partnership, especially during this most critical time of our campaign plan,” he said, according to an Army story about his visit. “We’ve got to (stay) shoulder-to-shoulder even more, show more trust and keep training and building the capacity of our Afghan armed forces, especially to compliment our responsible withdrawal (from Afghanistan) with success and honor.”
American officials said last week that many of the insider attacks have been plotted by the Haqqani network, an affiliation of insurgents based in Pakistan and with ties to al-Qaida. The Haqqanis support Taliban leadership, but operate independently for the most part.