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Yesterday morning three Americans were killed by a member of the Afghan National Police who opened fire at a private hospital in Kabul. This is the second such attack on western non-combatants in Afghanistan this month. On April 4th two Associated Press journalists were also shot by an Afghan Police Soldier. Although both attacks do not meet the necessary criteria to be defined as a ‘green-on-blue’ attack (whereby a member of the Afghan National Security Forces, ANSF, kills or injury members of the coalition forces serving alongside them), their similarity is not going unnoticed. In light of the recent spike in violence against journalists and western personnel in Afghanistan it is important to consider if these attacks are an adaptation of green-on-blue attacks committed by similarly motivated offenders or if they represent a different phenomena entirely.

If these attacks are related, a pertinent question is why the perpetrators have shifted their targets, to which there is a relatively easy answer; green-on-blue attacks are no longer as prevalent or effective as they were in 2012. The Center for Terrorism and Security Studies (CTSS) recently completed a data-driven analysis of green-on-blue attacks, victims and perpetrators. Since their original emergence in May 2007 there have been 112 green-on-blue attacks, and their occurrence steadily rose throughout 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 (3, 3, 8, 15 and 22 attacks per year accordingly) before sharply rising to 48 attacks (a 118% increase on 2011). Crucially the number of green-on-blue attacks decreased to only 13 in 2013 (a 63% decrease). These attacks combined to kill 157 ISAF personnel. To date only 2 insider attacks have occurred in 2014.

There are several possible reasons for this decline. Since August 2012, ISAF personnel have become increasingly protected from the small minority of ANSF personnel seeking to undertake an insider attack. The US military has trained and deployed ‘guardian angels’ whose role is to watch over and provide security to those ISAF personnel accompanying Afghan forces. The National Allied Treaty Organization (NATO) curbed the number of joint patrols between US/Coalition forces and the ANSF servicemen in Afghanistan and additional vetting procedures for incoming recruits have been established to better detect Taliban imposters who are attempting to infiltrate the ANSF.

These force protection efforts arguably leverage the concept of situational crime prevention – the attempt to influence an actor’s rational calculations of the costs/benefits of carrying out a specific action. However, the effect of situational crime prevention is also a double-edged sword. In not dealing with the root-cause of a behavior (in this case the motivations for why an individual may kill to target ISAF personnel) situational crime prevention can often result in an unwanted side effect; displacement. Displacement is the process whereby an actor who has not lost his motivation to undertake an activity merely moves their behavior to a less protected “soft” target that has a greater chance of success. An often-cited example of which is how the introduction of metal detectors in airports halved the number of airplane hijackings, yet significantly increased the number of hostage takings. Regarding the decrease in successful green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan, it may therefore be important to consider if the increased targeting of journalists and westerners in Afghanistan is actually a case of targeting ‘ISAF by-proxy’?

The answer to this remains to be seen, and these attacks could instead be viewed as murders of civilians (similar to the actions of Staff Sergeant Bales). However, if these attacks are an example of target switching in response to the ‘hardening’ of ISAF personnel then this will have several important ramifications for the protection of journalists, contractors, and non-government organizations that work in Afghanistan as ISAF operations are drawing to a close.

For more information on recent CTSS research regarding green-on-blue attacks please contact Mr. Neil Shortland (