CAMP PENDLETON -- Afghan security officials have taken several strong measures to halt the rash of “green-on-blue” killings, in which Afghan soldiers or police kill allied foreign troops, according to the top Marine commander in a volatile region of southern Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, speaking Friday via teleconference to reporters gathered at Camp Pendleton, said that Afghan leaders were determined to stop such killings “because they realize it’s damaging to the relationship” between the Afghan and coalition forces.
Gurganus said that in the three months since he assumed command of Western forces in Helmand and Nimruz provinces, a Marine and four British soldiers had been killed by assailants in Afghan uniforms.
Throughout Afghanistan, 22 U.S. and coalition soldiers have been killed this year in incidents either involving a member of the Afghan security forces or someone wearing the uniform of an Afghan soldier or police officer. Last year, 35 were killed in such circumstances.
Some of the killings, Gurganus said, may have been ideologically driven, with the killer in sympathy with the Taliban. Other cases may have been the result of arguments that got out of hand, he said.
Afghan leaders, Gurganus said, have begun screening security-force applicants more closely and requiring letters of recommendation from village elders. Soldiers or police who return from leave, particularly if they traveled to Pakistan, are also being screened, he said.
“They are watching these guys a little more carefully," Gurganus said. "They are taking some steps that are really huge in terms of their culture. They’ve really taken this to heart."
Afghan Maj. Gen. Sayeed Malook, the top Afghan army officer in Helmand, attended the recent “ramp ceremony” where the body of a Marine killed by someone wearing an Afghan uniform was loaded onto a cargo plane. Malook was so emotionally distraught and humiliated by what one of his soldiers had done that he could not get out of his truck, Gurganus said.
“This is very much a society of honor,” Gurganus said.
Despite the killings, there is no change in the practice of having Marines and other coalition forces working side-by-side with the Afghan forces. “Being with the Afghans is exactly where we need to be” as the U.S. trains Afghan forces to assume control in preparation for the U.S. departure by the end of 2014, Gurganus said.
-- Tony Perry
Photo: Marine Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus is greeted by Afghan security officer before a visit with the provincial governor of Nimruz province on April 27. Credit: Marine Corps