There have been several cases of fatal attacks on international troops by Afghan National Army (ANA) members, but only one of them has been proved to have been by a Taliban infiltrator, according to Brigadier-General Carsten Jacobson a spokesperson for the Nato-led international force, Isaf.
A Nato inquiry had revealed that only a few can be put down to a real infiltration strategy, he told the French daily Le Monde this week.
Two French foreign legionnaires were killed by an Afghan soldier and on 20 January another four were murdered by a man they were training.
“There are links with the insurrection,” French army spokesperson Thierry Burkhard assured reporters at the time.
But Jacobsen contradicts him, telling Le Monde that neither of the attackers was a Taliban member and that the explanation was arrived at after the facts.
Even a videoed confession, distributed by the Taliban, by a man who wounded three Australians and two Afghans in November was just a case of the rebels exploiting an incident they had not organised, he said, pointing out that the movement claims responsibility for nearly all attacks on foreign troops or representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s government.
Sarkozy, who faces an election in less than 60 days time, responded to the 20 January attack by declaring that France “can't accept that a single one of our soldiers be killed by our allies”. He later decided to bring French troops home in 2013, a year earlier than the pull-out date agreed by Nato at the US’s instigation.
Jacobsen’s statements do not undermine Sarkozy’s argument, although they do make it seem even more unlikely that Afghan security forces will be able to control the country after the planned withdrawal.
But cynics might judge the president’s apparent surprise at the unreliability of the Afghan state apparatus disingenuous and point out that the “allies” were brought to power by an international intervention that France supported.
Anyway, the unreliability of new army recruits is the Nato powers’ fault, according to Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.
With US President Barack Obama anxious to quit the country by 2014 and his allies even less keen to hang around, they have forced the ANA to increase its numbers too quickly, he told Le Monde.
Nato itself now admits that the main cause of attacks was insensitivity by foreign troops and trainers towards local traditions and Muslim beliefs and practises.
The participation in the international force is unpopular in France and Sarkozy’s chief rival in the presidential poll, Socialist François Hollande, has promised to wrap it up by the end of this year “at the latest”.
So Sarkozy’s announcement, which caught Nato and US officials by surprise, was undoubtedly influenced as much by the electoral combat in France as by the military one in Kapisa, the Afghan province that French troops are responsible for.
In the light of the inquiry into the killings, Nato will change its tactics:
- Afghanistan’s secret services, an institution that seems more consistently efficient than most, are to work with Nato recruiters and will be given new interception equipment;
- Protection measures will be standardised in all camps where foreign and Afghan troops are present;
- Nato trainers will have a reserved zone from which Afghans will be banned; Nato trainers will be better educated in local culture and Muslim beliefs to avoid “unnecessary” tension.
In any case, the handover to Afghan security forces will continue, even though US special forces and drones will remain, as the Wall Street Journal recently revealed.
The invading coalition may be racing to the door at the moment but the US, at least, is not going to leave a country that is strategically placed in resource-rich central Asia and next door to China, Pakistan and Iran entirely to its own devices.