WASHINGTON – Some recent attacks by uniformed Afghan forces against NATO troops may have been triggered by stress, hunger and dehydration associated with Ramadan fasting that this year fell in the middle of harsh summer weather and the heavy fighting season, the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan said Thursday.
“I think that the holy month of Ramadan demands great sacrifice of Muslims who observe it," Marine Gen. John Allen told reporters via video feed from Kabul. "The idea that they will fast during the day places great strain on them."
Even with a reduced operational tempo and an emphasis on planning missions in the morning or evening hours when the temperature was cooler, Allen said, it was still very hot and the operations were “very aggressive.”
“We take that as a potential reason, not the reason for an upswing,” Allen said.
About a quarter of the attacks can be attributed to the Taliban, Allen said, whether because the attacker was an infiltrator or was coerced by the Taliban into acting.
At least 10 U.S. troops have been killed in August by Afghan security forces.
Still, Allen warned that insider attacks are not a reason to limit contact and training with Afghan forces.
“The closer the relationship with them -- indeed, the more we can foster a relationship of brotherhood -- the more secure we are,” he said.
Allen also noted that as the transition moves forward, Afghan forces are “now suffering the preponderance of friendly casualties.”
Since 2007, 137 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in 134 attacks by other members of the ANSF, and 153 more have been wounded in those attacks, according to numbers provided by a military official. This year, 53 Afghan security troops have been killed in 35 shootings by ANSF members targeting their own.
In the 73 attacks by Afghan security troops targeting coalition forces since 2007, 110 coalition troops have been killed. This year, 40 NATO troops have been killed in 32 attacks.
When a unit is attacked, it creates “a moment of crisis, but that crisis can be overcome and is usually overcome by the application of the great leadership that is the hallmark of our forces today,” Allen said.
Leadership is the key to making sure troops don’t turn to retribution, Allen said, and instead recognize the value of continuing to work together.
In one case, “one of our battalion commanders publicly and openly hugged his Afghan battalion counterpart," he said. "And that solved the problem right on the spot."