Putting todays green-on-blue attack in context

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“KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan soldier killed a United States Army major general and wounded a German brigadier general and at least 14 other foreign and Afghan military service members on Tuesday at a military training academy on the outskirts of Kabul, officials of the American-led coalition said Tuesday. The major general appeared to be the highest-ranking member of the American military to die in hostilities overseas since the Vietnam War.”

From New York Times, (08/05/2014)

In response to the reported green-on-blue shooting that killed an American General officer and wounded up to 15 more,  Center for Terrorism and Security Studies Senior Research Associate, and Society for Terrorism Research 8th Annual Conference Organizer Neil Shortland discusses his research on green-on-blue attacks and how todays events fit the wider trends for this recurring threat in Afghanistan.

Todays reported green-on-blue attack (an incident in which a member of the Afghanistan National Army, or in some cases a Taliban impostor, fires on members of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF) serves as a stark reminder of how devastatingly effective these attacks can be.  At the Society for Terrorism Research Conference in September I will present findings from a 5-month UK Ministry of Defence Funded project. The project saw the development of an open-source data-set of green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013. This dataset covered 112 cases of insider-attacks, data on 157 members of ISAF who unfortunately lost their life as a result of such attacks and data on the 147 individuals thought to have been involved in these attacks.

Based on the early reports of what has happened today  (obtained via CNN.com), this blog will attempt to put these details in context

1. The attacker “opened fire at a training center: Since President Obama announced the goal to “create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans” partnership between ISAF personnel and members of the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) has been the lynchpin for strategic success.  ISAF are therefore heavily involved in joint training exercises with ANSF personnel, and this close working relationship increases the opportunity for green-on-blue attacks to occur.  The location of today’s attack (at a training facility in Kabul) is therefore important. However, it is worth noting that green-on-blue attacks during training exercises only account for a small portion of all attacks (11.4%), and the majority have occurred on base outside of partnered training or operations (61.4%).

2. The gunman used a “light machine gun: One reason for the effectiveness of green-on-blue attacks is that all members of the ANSF are armed. As such it is no surprise that todays attack and the majority of green-on-blue attacks (81.5%) are perpetrated using small-arms fire (including pistols, light and sub-machine guns).

3. This attack has a very high casualty toll”: Green-on-blue attacks are highly lethal and for 2012 overtook Improvised Explosive Devices as the top killer of ISAF troops in Afghanistan. 68.7% of all green-on-blue attacks resulted in the death of at least 1 member of ISAF personnel (some killing up to 9), and over half result in multiple ISAF personnel being killed. Reports today indicate that up to 15 members of ISAF personnel were injured, and prior to today the largest number of ISAF personnel injured in any green-on-blue attack was 11. If taking together the number of ISAF personnel killed and wounded today (and if these reports are confirmed), then this attack represents the second most lethal green-on-blue event (second only to January 20th, 2012, in which 5 ISAF personnel were Killed, and 15 were Injured).

4. “The gunman, who was killed, was believed to be an Afghan soldier”: At the simplest level there are two types of green-on-blue perpetrator; those who have a link to an insurgent group, and those who do not. Though the stated responsibility for each type varies between reports, and over time, our data confirms the general consensus that the majority of perpetrators do not have a prior link to an insurgent group (though some flee to them afterwards for protection). However, it can be hard to establish insurgent association when, as is the case in todays attack and over 40% of all green-on-blue attacks, the perpetrator is killed in return fire.

5. The Gunman was a Afghan Soldierwho had served for some time”: Although, on average, perpetrators of green-on-blue attacks have only 2 years of service, perpetrator service length is highly varied. Green-on-blue attacks have been perpetrated by members of the ANSF with less than 1 day’s experience and as many as 20 years (e.g. Amhed Gul, who served in the Afghan Air Force for 20 years before committing a green-on-blue attack).


Neil will be presenting on his research on Green-on-Blue attacks in Afghanistan at the Society for Terrorism Research Conference on Communication and Collaboration for Counter-Terrorism, September 17-19th, in Boston, MA.

If you are also presenting at STR14 and would like the opportunity to write a blog post for this series please contact strconference@uml.edu