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The Killing of French Soldiers and the Marine Urination Video

24/01/2012

Over the weekend, media outlets reported that the Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier who killed four French soldiers and injured 16 in the Tagab district of Kapisa claimed to have been motivated by the video of US Marines urinating on the corpses of the enemy in Helmand Province.

I encourage our friends and allies in France to consider (1) the source, (2) the history of “green-on-blue” attacks in Afghanistan, (which see members of the Afghan National Security Forces, ANSF, attacking their partners of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF), and (3) who gains by advancing this interpretation of events.

THE SOURCE: The Telegraph received this information from an “Afghan army officer” and was “backed by an intelligence source and another with access to information from the Afghan ministry of defence.”

This account is, in short, impossible to confirm based on The Telegraph’s reporting and there are plenty of reasons to doubt this account as explained below. The French are conducting an investigation. I am sure ISAF is conducting its own. Any judgments and operational decisions should be postponed until these investigations end.

And the French suspension of operations was to be expected. They have done the same thing after sustaining casualties before. As for talk of an early French withdrawal, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

GREEN-ON-BLUE ATTACKS: The claim that the soldier, 21-year old Abdul Mansour, launched this tragic attack due to the video is one of a few competing versions of events out there. French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said he was told in a meeting with General Emam Nazar of the 3rd Light Infantry Brigade of the ANA that the killer was a Taliban infiltrator who had returned to the ANA after deserting to Pakistan. This is a claim the Taliban confirmed, but unusually, they denied it at first. Insurgent groups in Afghanistan have a history of claiming “green on blue” attacks that they had nothing to do with. President Karzai downplayed the possibility of Taliban infiltration.

The suggestion that the Marine urination video was the cause is more insidious, as it can undermine inter-ally relations.

Why do these attacks happen? They rarely happen due to Taliban infiltration, but it seems more likely in this case than the video explanation. By and large, these attacks happen because inter-personal disputes and inter-cultural animosities that have nothing to do with the Taliban. I highly recommend an unclassified ISAF red-team study from last year called, A Crisis of Trust, examines how ANSF and US personnel view each other in order to understand and mitigate “the phenomena of ANSF-committed fratricide-murders.” This report is an excellent example of red-teaming.

I’d be curious to discover the soldier’s ethnicity, because if he is a Tajik (which, judging by the ethnic composition of the ANA, he most likely is), this makes it even less likely that he cared what happened to a couple of dead Pashtun Taliban on the opposite side of Afghanistan. If anyone knows anything more about Abdul Mansour, please let me know on Twitter: @evansryan202.

WHO GAINS?: In short, some actors in the Afghan government and the Taliban. This is not to suggest they are colluding. Quite the opposite. But parties on each side have an interest in advancing this narrative. The Taliban have an obvious interest in undermining trust in the ANA and inter-ally relations so as to disrupt what is intended to be a carefully orchestrated ISAF withdrawal plan.

Some actors in the Afghan government feel threatened by the course of negotiations between the Taliban and the United States. They worry (with some justification) that their interests are not being looked after and they believe they are not being kept in the loop. President Karzai’s heated reaction to a video of Marines urinating on dead insurgents (when members of the ANSF do worse to living insurgents all the time) and possibly the leaking of this information from the Afghan MoD should be seen in this context.