By Jamie Crawford
The vast majority of attacks by Afghan soldiers on their U.S. and NATO counterparts are the result of a "mutation" of terrorist tactics rather than a difference in cultural sensitivities, a senior Afghan official said Thursday.
"The majority of it is a terrorist infiltration in the (Afghan army) ranks and forces which is a tragic thing in itself," Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan'sdeputy foreign minister, said of "green on blue' attacks, in which Afghan soldiers turn their weapons on NATO forces alongside whom they serve.
U.S. officials have said a percentage of such attacks can be attributed to cultural grievances by Afghan forces, as well as Taliban or other insurgents exploiting the situation to drive a wedge between the United States and Afghanistan.
"It is kind of a last-gasp effort to be able to not only target our forces, but to try to create chaos, because they have not been able to regain any of the territory that they have lost," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters last month during a visit to Asia.
The phenomenon, which has picked up in pace within the last year, is mostly the work of terrorists taking advantage of a current large-scale recruitment drive for the Afghan National Forces to meet recruiting level targets, Ludin said.
"I suppose what happened in that process, we perhaps overlooked some of the crucial screening requirements, and as a result the enemy used that as an opportunity to infiltrate," Ludin said. He added that the number of Afghan soldiers being killed by a fellow Afghan was "far higher" than the instances of "green on blue" attacks.
The Afghan government has taken on a wholesale review of Afghan army recruits Ludin said, and that a "large number of people have actually been taken off the ranks just because we were not satisfied with their backgrounds."
The loss of strongholds in the south of the country following the recently completed "surge" of U.S. troops, and the large scale of arrests of would-be terrorists in Kabul and other urban areas, are forcing terrorists to find alternate venues, such as the Army ranks, to carry out their operations, Ludin said.
Ludin spoke with reporters Thursday at the Afghan Embassy in Washington after joining Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmoui Rassoul at the State Department Wednesday for the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission. The commission was established as a part of the Strategic Partnership the two countries signed in May.
In her meeting with Rassoul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that James Warlick, deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, would lead negotiations for the United States for a future Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan. Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, will lead the negotiations for Afghanistan.
Clinton said such an agreement between the two countries would "establish the framework of our future security relationship based on our shared vision of a secure and stable Afghanistan."
While talks with the United States are ongoing, Ludin told reporters that talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are "dormant." The Afghan government is working to define "verifiable representatives" of the Taliban who renounce violence, cut all ties with terrorism and who respect the equality of women in Afghan society.
Ludin said the Afghan government was not opposed to a separate U.S. attempt to negotiate with members of the Taliban in Qatar. In that effort, the United States would transfer five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar in exchange for a U.S. soldier currently held by the Taliban. It was the lack of Afghan involvement in the process that drew Ludin's criticism.
"We felt that if you are really true to the model of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process, we should be involved," Ludin said.
Those talks have still not begun.
At his confirmation hearing in July, James Cunningham, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, said Taliban leaders are "signaling they are open to negotiations," although he said the Taliban must end its alliances with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda before the United States would endorse any peace deal.
And with the leadership of the Afghan Taliban still operating mostly out of Pakistan, Ludin said that nation remains a crucial player in Afghan peace talks with the Taliban. However, Pakistan and other interested countries must still "take a back seat" in the actual negotiations, he said.
"When it comes to talking about the future of the peace process, the political discussion, that frankly is nobody else's job," Ludin said. "We have to do it."