x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Afghan attacks urge a different approach

Muslim countries have a real advantage in Afghanistan – a genuine affinity based on shared religious values – that aids cooperation. Such cooperation must be increased.

Sanitised military terminology such as "collateral damage" will never do justice to the horrors of modern warfare. But one US Defense Department term being used to describe events in Afghanistan - "green-on-blue attacks" - is even more misleading.

Strikes on Nato forces by Afghan police or soldiers, or militants disguised as them, have become the biggest threat to coalition forces in recent months. This year, so-called "green-on-blue" incidents - a phrase that derives from war-game manoeuvres, in which the phrase "blue-on-blue" attacks refers to friendly fire - account for 14 per cent of Nato troop deaths in Afghanistan, most recently including three Australian soldiers killed in Uruzgan province on Wednesday.

More than just a threat to coalition soldiers, this is evidence of deep misunderstandings between many Afghans and foreign forces, in particular western troops. As US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta noted this month, attackers aim to "undermine the trust between the coalition and Afghan forces". By all accounts, they are succeeding.

US and Nato forces have worked, successfully at times, to forge partnerships with Afghan tribal and political leaders to rebuild a state that for decades has known only conflict. Yet today, relations are so strained that the Pentagon deploys "guardian angels" within units - soldiers whose only job is to watch the backs of other deployed men and women. When a few soldiers desecrate the Holy Quran, as some did in February for example, the entire project is in jeopardy.

The Afghan campaign will not end with the withdrawal of Nato forces in 2014 and the end of the war, or at least that phase of the war. Afghans will need humanitarian assistance and foreign aid from a spectrum of supporters. The United States has spent billions trying to stabilise Afghanistan's economic, social, judicial and security institutions - the recent killings illustrate that effort was partly successful at best.

Arab and Muslim countries have a real advantage - a genuine affinity with Afghans based on shared religious values - that aids cooperation. UAE units have conducted a largely trouble-free humanitarian mission.

The military mission is ending, and the recent attacks cast serious doubt on one of its goals: establishing a reliable national security force. The continuing humanitarian mission must take that failure into account.