The killing of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene by an Afghan soldier on Tuesday doesn’t just mark the first killing of a U.S. general in a war zone since Vietnam. It’s also a disturbing example of a problem that coalition forces had seemed to be getting under control: so-called insider, or “green-on-blue,” attacks.
In 2012 at least 52 coalition soldiers were killed by purported allies in the Afghan security forces. But perhaps thanks to improved screening and security measures, these attacks have become a lot less common. A Pentagon report issued earlier this summer stated that insider attacks had declined from 48 in 2012 to 15 in 2013 to just two in the first quarter of 2014.
But on Tuesday, in addition to the attack that killed Greene, the New York Times reports that an “Afghan police officer opened fire on American soldiers visiting the governor of Paktia Province.” This comes after a few weeks of alarming security news in Afghanistan, including the worst suicide bombing in the country since 2001, Taliban military gains in areas previously thought to be under government control, and worrying signs that the U.S.-brokered deal reached after the recent disputed presidential election may be unraveling.
Given recent events in Iraq, it’s worth asking whether there’s potential for similar disintegration in Afghanistan. There are some key differences between the situations. Unlike Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, both Afghan presidential candidates—Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah—have pledged to sign an agreement that would keep a limited U.S. troop presence in the country through 2016 to continue to train Afghan security forces. Of course, that’s contingent on one of these men actually getting into office. They’re currently locked in an ongoing dispute over an audit of election results. Continued insider attacks will also make the job of U.S. trainers much harder.
And there’s still a lot of work to be done. Assuming the Taliban threat persists, a recent independent report commissioned by the Pentagon concluded that current U.S. and NATO efforts are woefully inadequate to prepare Afghan forces to maintain the country’s stability after international troops draw down.
In retrospect, it should have been obvious that the Iraqi military—and more importantly, the government behind it—was unprepared to meet a threat on the scale of ISIS. The post-American outlook for Afghanistan doesn’t look a whole lot better at the moment.