Mutual mistrust and contempt between local and foreign forces inAfghanistan that often borders on hatred is one of the main reasons why Afghan troops increasingly turn their guns on their Nato comrades, a damning report has found.
The research, commissioned by the US military, said American soldiers enrage their Afghan colleagues with what the report describes as extreme arrogance, bullying and “crude behaviour”.
It also heavily criticised as “profoundly intellectually dishonest” the Nato claims that the killing of alliance troops by Afghan soldiers is extremely rare.
The data suggests incidents such as the killing on Friday of four French soldiers “reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat (a magnitude of which may be unprecedented between ‘allies’ in modern military history)”.
It warned that the problem is now so serious that it is “provoking a crisis of confidence and trust among westerners training and working with Afghan National Security Forces” (ANSFs).
According to behavioural scientist Jeffrey Bordin’s report, the number of attacks have been growing, with 26 incidents of killings or attempted killings since early 2007. Those attacks led to the deaths of 58 foreign personnel.
While some of these incidents involved Taliban infiltrators, Bordin believes many resulted from “deep-seated animosity, often stimulated by social and personal conflicts”.
Based on interviews with 613 Afghan security forces, the document paints an extremely bleak picture of mutual contempt and misunderstanding between the two sides.
US troops regard their Afghan allies they are training and fighting alongside as untrustworthy, dishonest, incompetent and practising “repulsive hygiene”.
For their part, the Afghans have been provoked into fights, and even attempts to kill, by behaviour that many Americans might not be unduly shocked by.
That includes “urinating in public, their cursing at, insulting and being rude and vulgar to ANSF members, and unnecessarily shooting animals”.
The factors that create the most animosity included US military convoys blocking traffic, returning fire on insurgents in an apparently indiscriminate way, risking civilian lives, “naively using flawed intelligence sources” and conducting raids on Afghans’ private homes.
Another cause for concern is the fact that armed Afghan soldiers almost never intervene when one of their comrades is attempting to kill Nato soldiers.
On Friday, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said the so-called “red team study” was produced by an outside contractor and was not approved or endorsed by senior Isaf officials who reviewed it.
Isaf said the study “suffered from irrelevant generalisations, narrow sample sets, unprofessional rhetoric and sensationalism”.
Military “red teams” are independent cells used to scrutinise and challenge operations and plans.
With the vast bulk of foreign troops in Afghanistan coming from America, the US has inevitably suffered the most from what Isaf calls “green on blue incidents”.
However, British troops have also been killed, including a case in November 2009 when an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers and wounded a further six who were resting after a patrol and were not armed or wearing their body armour.
Nearly all France’s 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan are concentrated in Kapisa, a province not far north of Kabul which has long been wracked by a persistent insurgency.
An Afghan battalion commander in southern Afghanistan told the Guardian last year that he is most concerned about Pashtun soldiers.
Although the Pashtuns are Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group they are under-represented in the ANA and overwhelmingly dominate the insurgency.
The captain, a non-Pashtun himself, recalled how he disarmed one of his subordinates who was so disgusted by Americans that he refused to even look at US soldiers when he encountered them.
However, he pinned the blame on the killings of foreign troops firmly on the Taliban and the ISI, the Pakistani military spy agency that is thought to support the insurgency.
“Those who kill the foreigners are slaves of Pakistan,” he said. “The ISI and Pakistan don’t want the ANA to succeed.”
The recruitment and training of a sizeable army and police force, which will ultimately be 352,000 strong, is a cornerstone of Nato’s strategy in Afghanistan.
Without a decent security force the collapse of the current Afghan state after the drawdown of the vast majority of Nato forces by the end of 2014 would be inevitable.
Although the Afghan army has improved markedly in recent years the report’s interviews with 215 US soldiers highlighted a long list of problems that remain: “They reported pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapon handling, corrupt officers, no real NCO corps, covert alliances/informal treaties with insurgents, high Awol rates, bad morale, laziness, repulsive hygiene and the torture of dogs.”