The term “green-on-blue casualties” has been brought up an unfortunate number of times lately. If you’ve heard this term but don’t understand what it means, I’d like to use this article to discuss that today.
This term is meant to describe an Afghan policeman or soldier attacking a coalition, largely US, soldier. In 2012 there were 44 of these attacks, and although the numbers have largely subsided due to increased security precautions and troop drawdown there was even a Major General (Harold Greene) who was killed in a green-on-blue incident in 2014.
And over the weekend seven US military members were wounded in an insider “green-on-blue” attack at Camp Shaheen in Northern Afghanistan. As a former Green Beret this strikes close to home, as one of the primary missions of Special Forces is to train and assist local forces to give them the ability to take back their own country.
The three Green Berets killed in another green-on-blue attack in Jordan highlights this, as the soldiers from 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) were ambushed as they were entering the base at which they were training Jordanians. Green Berets account for over 60% of the Special Operations forces killed in action in our current wars, and a large part of that increased percentage is on account of this very mission.
Green Berets were once known for their longer hair and beards than the conventional military, largely because of the train and advise mission. Green Berets are selected largely for an ability to not only think on their feet and outside of the box, but also for an enhanced natural ability to assimilate to their surroundings and gain the trust of the local groups they are fighting with, which is why Special Forces has long grown beards & long hair to “fit in” with the local cultures.
Rather than living like most conventional forces on the large city-bases which inhabit warzones the US has a presence in, Special Forces live “outside the wire,” giving them the ability to live, eat, train and fight with their local forces rather than only showing when it’s time for work. We pride ourselves on an ability to create strong rapport due to our gregarious personalities, aptitude and willingness to pick up another language and our cultural sensitivity.
And of course our enemies know this fact very well. It is common for the taliban, ISIS or any local rebel groups trying to deliver a blow to our forces to attempt either “turning” one of the troops being trained by Special Forces or to even attempt to get one of their fighters to pose as an Afghan soldier or policeman to give them placement and know our movements. And even to kill some of us.
When I was on my first Afghanistan deployment we had stringent vetting practices, but that isn’t always possible. When you have a few handfuls of fighters that you’re responsible for it’s much easier to employ intelligence procedures to weed out any bad elements; but when you begin matching a 12-man Special Forces team with hundreds of soldiers it becomes more difficult.
And sometimes it’s a risk you just have to take in order to accomplish your mission. We had several soldiers in our first group of commandos in Afghanistan that came completely clean with us, admitting that they used to be Taliban but we (the US) paid better. It’s amazing what you can do once you find a person’s motivations!
And every time we have a green-on-blue incident like this it sets the mission back substantially. Special Forces are known as “force multipliers” because you can take a small team of us and train, equip and fight alongside large groups of soldiers over the span of a deployment. As we liked to say our purpose was to “work ourselves out of a job” by creating a fighting force that could do everything from running intelligence operations to kicking down doors and killing bad guys without our assistance.
But the most important variable for this to happen successfully is trust. The first few weeks of a training mission are almost exclusively dedicated to establishing rapport, or trust, between the local soldiers and us. We spend a lot of time drinking chai (tea), sharing stories and yes, even walking around base holding hands with our guys (as a show of respect to the local culture in which that shows friendship).
Any loss of rapport begins to crumble the foundation upon which our entire mission in Afghanistan is built. But unfortunately the mission must go on, and we know as soldiers that war is hell and this is a byproduct of it.
To be killed by an enemy combatant in a firefight is something that can be respected, as two warriors are fighting as has been done since time immemorial. But to be killed by someone who you think you can trust is a travesty and nothing more than cowardly on their part.
But unfortunately this is a part of war, and seems as if it will continue. Even long after all conventional troops are out of Afghanistan the Special Forces soldiers will remain, off the grid and away from the protection of our fellow Americans.
So please say a prayer and keep these soldiers in your hearts. Even though the media coverage of the war has been winding down for some time and it’s come off the radar of most Americans, there is still a very large number of our troops in harm’s way every day, needing your support now as much as ever.
Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A) and is an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war.” Follow him @RobertPLewis on Twitter or on his RobertPatrickLewisAuthor Facebook page.