WASHINGTON — Most attacks against U.S. and coalition troops by Afghan security forces stem from personal disputes that arise after the attackers began working with foreign personnel, according to congressional testimony on Wednesday.
Although Defense Department investigators couldn’t always nail down a cause, only a minority of attacks — which total about 45 and have killed about 70 U.S. and allied troops — are believed to be carried out by infiltrators.
DOD officials who testified before the House Armed Services Committee agreed the coalition needs to improve its monitoring of armed Afghans who work with U.S. troops, particularly because U.S. strategy calls for troops to increasingly work as embedded advisers with Afghan units.
“The more the Afghans take the lead, the less effective the Taliban are,” said David Sedney, deputy assistant defense secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. “To a certain extent, the increased partnership may place our force at greater risk, particularly as the Taliban recognize the importance of that partnership and act to counter it.”
Throughout the hearing, DOD witnesses and members of Congress expressed their sympathy to family members who were present of Rudy Acosta, a 19-year-old soldier killed last spring in Afghanistan and who was a constituent of committee chairman, California Republican Congressman Buck McKeon.
Acosta was killed when an insurgent infiltrated a security contracting company that had previously dismissed him after he made threats against Americans. But the killer, Shia Ahmed, was rehired because both the company and the Army failed to note the earlier threat.
As a result of the investigation that followed, a multi-tiered system of pre-employment vetting and continued monitoring of security contractors is being put in place, said Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, director of the Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Part of the solution is to take advantage of traditional resources, checking applicants’ characters and confirming their identity with village elders or other cultural authorities, Townsend said.
Another part is high-tech. Because Afghans with limited literacy often spell their names differently from day to day, it’s difficult to track them in databases. Biometric monitoring, which has already been instated with Afghan national security forces, can solve that problem, Townsend said.
“The guy has only got one set of fingerprints, he’s only got on facial photograph, he’s only got one iris scan,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter how many names he’s got entered into the biometrics — we’re going to know who he is.”
The Pentagon is also putting in place measures to gather better intelligence with Afghan partners to detect threats in advance, Townsend said.
And, the DOD officials agreed, Afghans and foreign troops need to be taught to understand each other better so small slights don’t explode into violence. That means more language and cultural training for both sides.
The DOD believes that closer ties between Western and Afghan troops could bring down the number of attacks.
“The attacks on the U.S. and our coalition allies by Afghan forces are more likely to happen where there is limited interaction,” Sedney said. “Where there is closer partnership, better interaction and understanding, better mentoring, it is less likely such an attack will occur.”