U.S. soldier deaths hit 2,000 mark 

Fear of insider attacksmay affect exit strategy

U.S. Marine squad leader Sgt. Matthew Duquette, left, of Warrenville, Ill., with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 5th Marines walks with Afghan National Army Lt. Hussein, during in a joint patrol in Nawa district, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.
U.S. Marine squad leader Sgt. Matthew Duquette, left, of Warrenville, Ill., with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 5th Marines walks with Afghan National Army Lt. Hussein, during in a joint patrol in Nawa district, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

KABUL, Af­ghan­istan — Days af­ter joint op­er­a­tions be­tween U.S. and Af­ghan forces had re­turned to nor­mal, five peo­ple — two Amer­i­cans and three Af­ghans — were killed in a bat­tle be­tween sol­diers of the two sides, U.S. and Af­ghan of­fi­cials said Sun­day.

The at­tack pushed U.S. mil­i­tary deaths in the war to 2,000, a cold re­minder of the per­ils that re­main in an 11-year con­flict. 

“The tally is mod­est by the stan­dards of war his­tor­i­cally, but ev­ery fa­tal­ity is a trag­edy and 11 years is too long,” said Mi­chael O’Han­lon, a fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton. 

“All that is in­ter­nal­ized, how­ever, in an Amer­i­can pub­lic that has been watch­ing this cam­paign for a long time. More news­wor­thy right now are the in­sider at­tacks and the sense of hope­less­ness they con­vey to many,” he said.

At­tacks by Af­ghan sol­diers or po­lice — or in­sur­gents dis­guised in their uni­forms — have killed 52 Amer­i­can and other NATO troops this year.

“We have to get on top of this. It is a very se­ri­ous threat to the cam­paign,” the U.S. mil­i­tary’s top of­fi­cer, Army Gen. Mar­tin Demp­sey, said about the in­sider threat.

The top com­mander of U.S. and NATO forces in Af­ghan­istan, Gen. John Al­len, was blunter.

“I'm mad as hell about them, to be hon­est with you,” Gen­eral Al­len told CBS’ 60 Min­utes in an in­ter­view broad­cast on Sun­day. “It re­ver­ber­ates ev­ery­where across the United States.”

In­sider at­tacks are con­sid­ered one of the most se­ri­ous threats to the U.S. exit strat­egy from the coun­try. 

Af­ghan of­fi­cials said the clash on Satur­day was a mis­un­der­stand­ing and that the Amer­i­cans ap­par­ently at­tacked an Af­ghan Na­tional Army unit in er­ror. 

A top co­a­li­tion of­fi­cer said the Amer­i­cans were at­tacked first in what might pos­si­bly have been an in­sur­gent at­tack. 

An ini­tial state­ment from the NATO-led In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force on Sun­day de­scribed the ep­i­sode as “a sus­pected in­sider at­tack,” which killed a for­eign sol­dier and a ci­vil­ian con­trac­tor. 

The ep­i­sode clearly rep­resents an­other in a se­ries of set­backs in re­la­tions be­tween the U.S. and Af­ghan mili­taries. It oc­curs at a del­i­cate mo­ment, when all of the U.S. surge re­in­force­ments have only re­cently left the coun­try and NATO has been try­ing to trans­fer ever greater re­spon­si­bil­ity to a grow­ing Af­ghan mil­i­tary.

Shahid­ul­lah Shahid, the spokes­man for the gov­er­nor in War­dak prov­ince where the fight­ing oc­curred, said the deaths oc­curred “af­ter a clash en­sued be­tween two sides fol­low­ing a mis­un­der­stand­ing.”

An Af­ghan of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of an­o­nym­ity that a mor­tar shell had landed amid the U.S. unit, kill­ing a sol­dier and a ci­vil­ian con­trac­tor and wound­ing sev­eral oth­ers. 

The Amer­i­cans thought it came from a nearby Af­ghan Na­tional Army check­point on a hill and at­tacked it with small arms and rock­ets, kill­ing three and wound­ing three of the seven sol­diers there, the of­fi­cial said.

The War­dak pro­vin­cial po­lice chief, Ab­dul Qay­oum Baqizoi, said the fight broke out when an Af­ghan sol­dier among seven sol­diers at the check­point opened fire on the Amer­i­cans; in the en­su­ing gun bat­tle, three Af­ghan sol­diers were killed, in­clud­ing the one who fired first.

Sig­nifi­cantly, ac­cord­ing to Af­ghan of­fi­cials, the U.S. unit, which was rel­a­tively small in size and man­ning a tem­po­rary check­point in the Sayid Abad Dis­trict, was not part­nered with Af­ghan forces. 

The unit was con­duct­ing a bio­met­ric sur­vey, in which de­tails like fin­ger­prints and eye scans are gath­ered from the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, of­ten at tem­po­rary check­points, in an ef­fort to screen for in­sur­gents.

Lt. Gen. Adrian Brad­shaw of the NATO-led force read a brief state­ment on Sun­day that did lit­tle to clar­ify what hap­pened be­tween the al­lied and Af­ghan sol­diers.

“What was ini­tially re­ported to have been a sus­pected in­sider at­tack is now un­der­stood to pos­si­bly have in­volved in­sur­gent fire,” Gen­eral Brad­shaw said. 

Asked if the re­stric­tions on joint pa­trol­ling were a fac­tor in Satur­day’s clash, Gen­eral Brad­shaw did not re­spond to the ques­tion. He said in­stead that the re­stric­tions were not a change in strat­egy but were prompted by in­creased cau­tion about the re­ac­tion in a Muslim coun­try to the in­cen­di­ary video re­cently posted on YouTube that den­i­grated the Prophet Mo­ham­med.