ANSF leaders pull no punches in the Pentagon

Afghan National Security Forces leaders from Helmand and Kandahar provinces visiting the Pentagon on Wednesday said they understand the seriousness of green-on-blue and insider attacks on coalition forces.

But in an exclusive interview with the E-Ring, the Afghan officers also indicated there are two things worrying them more about the future of security in their region. Their first concern is getting enough equipment, logistics and intelligence support to carry on the security mission as tens of thousands of international forces pull out. Their second worry: Pakistan.

Through a translator, Maj. Gen. Sayed Malook Akbari, commanding general of the 215th Corps Afghan National Army, said he understood the recent concern over insider attacks, conceding they are having a negative effect in his ranks. But he also argued that the actual insider attacks conducted by enemies were a fraction of the total green-on-blue incidents and should not be taken to represent wider Afghan attitudes.

“There were mistakes made by coalition forces by the other side -- for example burning of Quran and also pissing on the bodies of Taliban,” Akbari said. “People are not very educated. When they see one person doing this, they hold it against all of the whole society.”

“I do not deny also that the enemy infiltrates among us and they do recruiting of our soldiers and they turn them against us,” he said. But Akbari claimed that such infiltration was behind only three or four out of 38 attacks in his area, with the rest being private fights or disgruntled troops.

Still, he admitted they are effective.

“It’s creating a very untrustworthy type of environment among us and coalition forces.”

Akbari said to counter the problem, his troops and other security forces are being trained with religous counter-arguement instructions that explain murder is against the teachings of Islam.

“We are trying very hard,” he said. “We didn’t just leave it to mullahs.” The security leaders have traveled into many local communities to challenge the mullahs directly. “We are getting real positive results out of that, too.”

But the officers also said they recognize that they are fighting an enemy who is doing “everything against the laws of human beings,” added Maj. Gen. Esmatullah Dawlatzai, the white-haired commanding general of the 707th Zone Uniform Border Police.

Dawlatzai chalked some of the incidents up to depression among some soldiers in his ranks, but he gave assurances that issue is being addressed and that insider attacks will not succeed to drive apart the coalition.

“They [the Taliban] are trying to separate us from the coalition forces. But we want to tell them that all of these tactics that they are using, these green against blue, all that it’s going to do is bring coalition forces, Afghan forces altogether, much closer,” he said.

The group was making their now annual visit with the command elements of the next batch of Marines slated to be deployed to their region -- this time being the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). The group also included Brig. Gen. Ghulam Nabi Tutakhil, director of operations, Coordination Center – Regional; Col. Mohammad Aslam Hashmi, director of operations, 215th Corps Afghan National Army; and Col. Sultan Mahmood, commanding officer of the 6th Zone Afghan Border Police.

After 30 years of war, Afghans know how to fight, they said. They just need proper equipment and more training. But with insider attacks driving down American public support for the war, the officers said they still need U.S. military support for years to come, and they pointed to agreements already signed allowing for a continued presence beyond 2014. Additionally, they argued that the international community has committed to fighting terrorists from their region that affect security far beyond its borders.

“Coalition forces? I see the need for them until Afghan forces are on their feet and they are capable of taking over security. As long as it takes,” said Dawlatzai. After 2014, he added, “We still need logistical and air support and other support from coalition forces… as long as it takes.”

But he sympathized with the parents of fallen U.S. troops angry over insider attacks, saying, “I really don’t blame them.”

Akbari, however, growing defensive, said that Afghans understand that one American soldier killing Afghans in a shooting spree does not represent all American soldiers. Afghans, he argued, are aggressively prosecuting the attackers they catch.

Since the surge saw most of its fighting in Helmand and Kandahar provinces to halt the flow of terrorists and insurgents coming in from Pakistan, the E-Ring asked the regioal officers how much of a lingering concern to them was the terrorist threat in Pakistan.

“I really have no words, because you just asked us if the sun is bright or not,” said Dawlatzai. “The fact is they are making Taliban, and if we’re not going to stop this…it’s just going to get bigger, just making Taliban.”

Dawlatzai wryly noted that Osama bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan and said that last week he heard Ayman al-Zawahiri “might be in Pakistan as well.”

“I hope that answers your question.”

To that, Akbari added Mullah Omar also is believed to be in Pakistan.