KABUL – Army Command Sgt. Major John Troxell is one of the highest ranking, most experienced U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan this year. His counterpart in the Afghan army has the same prestige.
They trust each other, but whenever they meet one another, each soldier brings a personal security team.
“I always have someone locked and loaded, passively watching,” Troxell said.
His safety precautions are being replicated throughout the NATO headquarters where he works and its connected bases around Kabul.
They grew in importance this year in the wake of a string of incidents that left 17 NATO service members dead at the hands of men wearing the uniforms of Afghan security forces. Two of those killings took place in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior, a secure location where a shooting such as that should have been unthinkable.
Western service members are striking a balance between protecting themselves and embracing their Afghan partners in working toward their shared goals. Solid relationships, they say, should provide nearly as much security as the safety standards that followed the so-called “green on blue” killings.
“If you have a good relationship, they will treat like family and they will do anything to protect you,” said Col. Lapthe Flora of the Virginia-Maryland National Guard.
Flora is working with a three-star Afghan general at the Ministry of Defense’s ground forces command. Afghans are not allowed to bring weapons in American offices. A U.S. soldier always has a loaded weapon when entering the Afghan side of their complex.
Likewise, on the Afghan air force wing of the base here, U.S. airmen wear their body armor and carry rifles to their work. Their Afghan counterparts are prohibited from bringing their weapons into joint facilities.
The Defense Department in February analyzed 42 “green on blue” incidents since 2007 that resulted in the deaths of 70 NATO personnel for a report to the House Armed Services Committee. It found that the majority of the incidents were provoked by personal disputes between Afghans and their NATO peers as opposed to ones that were carried out by insurgent infiltrators.
Since then, Afghan security forces have taken new steps to vet their new recruits. It’s challenging because they’re growing so quickly. They’ve added 100,000 soldiers in the past 18 months, growing to some 300,000 troops.
Troxell, the top enlisted officer in Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s I Corps, said soldiers should be cautious with new Afghan recruits. Often, the Afghans are young and poorly educated. They have likely heard anti-Western propaganda all their lives.
“What we have to do is educate these young men,” he said.
The News Tribune visited several small joint bases in southern Afghanistan over the past month. In each one, Afghans and Americans trained together, ate together and shared in duties on overnight missions. Their relationships generally appeared warm and cordial.
“The closer you are working with your Afghan partner, the better is your security. That builds a relationship that is very difficult to replicate,” said Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the war’s operations commander and the senior officer at Lewis-McChord.