'Green on blue' attacks are a constant threat for troops in Afghanistan, and they are causing anxiety for both the Australian and Afghan soldiers, reports Karen Middleton from Uruzgan.
Attacks against coalition troops by men wearing Afghan uniforms, so-called ‘green on blue’ attacks, have become a constant threat for Australian troops in Afghanistan.
SBS Chief Political Correspondent Karen Middleton is embedded with Australian forces in Uruzgan province. She spoke to Australian and Afghan soldiers about the ‘insider threat’.
Australia has lost seven soldiers to so-called “green on blue” attacks in the past 18 months. Last week, the Americans lost two, and yesterday a couple of soldiers from the NATO-led coalition were killed by a man in an Afghan police uniform.
For Australian soldiers the risk that someone they've come to train will turn his gun on them is unsettling.
“It's very difficult to understand why your men and women are being killed and injured by those you are supposed to be supporting,” says ISAF Brigadier Roger Noble.
The insider attacks are having a profound effect on troops.
“Once you get to know them, you sort of get along with them, that threat sort of disappears,” says Team Alpha Mentor, Private Tristan Kennedy. “But you've still got to keep it in the back of your head. Just in case.”
At Forward Operating Base Hadrian, they get on well with the Afghan Army and Police. But sometimes soldiers get the feeling things are not right.
“I don’t even think about it half the time. Then every now and then, one will turn up and you know he's not right, straight away,” says Team Alpha Mentor Corporal Peter Phillips.
“You can feel it, you can sense it. Straight away. We just pay a bit of extra attention to him and we get on the radio so all the boys know that he's the one we're watching for the day,” he says.
Provincial governor Amir Akhandzada calls the attacks on Australians and others “cowardly”.
The Afghan National Army's 4th brigade commander, Brigadier General Zafar Khan, insists the attackers are infiltrators.
“That was not Afghan soldiers,” he says, referring to the recent attack. “That was the enemy. We are trying to prevent these attacks so there will be improvement in the future.”
But privately some in the coalition believe the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) response has been too slow.
“It is not the ANA and my soldiers recognise that. This is a tactic of the enemy,” says 3RAR Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Trent Scott.
Sergeant Shikeeb Ghafoory is the 5th Kandak medic.
“We are sorry about everything that happened,” he says.
“Some bad people impersonated us... They don't like that we're working together to defeat the enemy. We're doing our best to destroy them.”
A few months ago, Australians visiting this Afghan National Army compound would come in pairs -- one, with a security guardian angel. Now they come in a much larger group with stronger security inside and out.
“Most of us know it's not going to happen,” says 3RAR Sentinel Corporal Jason Dapice. “But we still are prepared. And personally for me I think that's a good thing - having all the bases covered.”
The Afghans are affected, too. When off duty, they surrender their weapons and trainees are searched -- even hand mirrors are confiscated.
ANA trainee Afghan Sergeant Gulum Habib says they know it's also for their safety.
“The enemies -- they want to wear the uniform of the ANA or coalition forces,” he says. “They target us to kill us.”
All security personnel – whether they are coalition or Afghan – seem to be looking over their shoulders.