‘Insider Killings’ in Afghanistan

Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, pastor of an Anglican church, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.


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In the past two weeks at least nine Americans have been killed by their Afghan allies in what is known to as “insider killings.”  Members of the Afghan army, having been trained and armed by NATO forces, are turning their weapons in increasing numbers against their foreign allies, killing at least 40 NATO troops this year so far.

These killings are demoralizing, not only for the troops, but also for the folks back home.  They make people war-weary.  Mrs. Marina Buckley, the mother of Lance Corporal Gregory Buckley who was killed by one of his Afghan allies just before he was due to return home, spoke for many when she said: “Our forces shouldn’t be there.  It should be over. It’s done. No more.”

These killings have been blamed on foreign spies and Taliban infiltrators, but such theories have been discounted by military investigators, who could only link one in ten killings to Taliban infiltration.

The generals seem to be mystified, for Colonel Lapan, spokesman for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff commented, “we don’t know what’s causing them, and we’re looking at everything.”

They could also look at Islam, and at history.

Let us wind the clock back 120 years to Aceh, today part of Indonesia.  In 1892 the sultanate of Aceh, a staunchly Islamic region, had been under Dutch military occupation for twice as many years as the Americans have been in Afghanistan.  When the Dutch first stormed the Acehnese capital Kutaraja (now Banda Aceh) in 1871 they naively assumed that control of the rest of the countryside would quickly follow. Instead they became entangled in a conflict which lasted for decades.

A poignant legacy of the Aceh-Dutch war is a military cemetery in Banda Aceh, reputed to be the largest graveyard of Dutch troops outside Holland.

As the decades passed, the Acehnese waged a tenacious insurgency from jungle hideouts, and Dutch leaders cycled through various theories to explain their military failures.  One theory was that the passing of time would see a steady reduction in hostilities.  Time did pass, and this theory ended up in the trash.  Another theory was that a “concentration line” of forts could effect a safe haven around the capital to guarantee security, but the attacks continued.

A particularly demoralizing aspect of the conflict was a pattern of Acehnese allies turning against and killing Dutch soldiers.  Teuku Umar was an early leader of the Acehnese resistance who became an ally of the Dutch, as a result of which he was rewarded with weapons, money and command of hundreds of troops.  Then he turned these weapons and troops against his supposed “allies,” inflicting heavy casualties.  The Dutch regarded this as an odious betrayal, yet today the name of Teuku Umar is recognized as one of Indonesia’s greatest heroes and boulevards all over the country are named after him.

The problem of deceit and betrayal was also a rank-and-file problem.  There was no shortage of would-be Acehnese martyrs who, for the sake of gaining a victim, were willing to feign friendship with the Dutch, before drawing their knives against them.  The phenomenon of unpredictable killings by the Acehnese came to be known as Atjèh-moord “Acehnese murder.”

The failure of Dutch military policy in Aceh – and the resulting drain of Dutch blood and treasure – caused a host of political difficulties for governments back in Holland.  The war became intensely unpopular.

The turning point in the Aceh-Dutch war came in 1891-92 when Christian Snouck Hurgronje, an expert in Arabic and Islam, was sent to do field research into “the pernicious Aceh Question” (het verderfelijke Atjeh-questie).

Snouck Hurgronje was the preeminent Western expert on Islam of his generation.  After completing a PhD on Islamic theology in Holland, he spent a year in Mecca in 1884-85, living as a Muslim, studying at the feet of the Sheikhs, and making a special study of Indonesian Muslims.

After his field trip to Aceh, Snouck Hurgronje published a two-volume report on the Acehnese society in 1893, which included a military analysis, and offered a blueprint for winning the insurgency.

At the heart of Snouck Hurgronje’s explanation of the “Aceh Question” was a theological analysis.  The Acehnese war, he explained, was jihad, a theologically motivated struggle against the Dutch as infidel-occupiers of Islamic territory.

Because it was a theological struggle, grounded in the deeply held Islamic convictions of the Acehnese people, the Aceh war could not be won by capturing a few key cities or neutralizing a handful of key leaders.  Indeed, as time passed, and the early chieftain leaders were superseded, the insurgency came to be dominated by clerics, whose influence greatly increased as a result of the jihad.  (This same pattern can be observed in Afghanistan over the past decade.)

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  • SKIP

    We recently suffered an internal attack where I am and at the end of it a day or two later I asked the military "you have been at war with these people for more than 10 years now and you still know nothing of your enemy" Our ANA (Afghan National Army) "guards" apparently let them in and the military has "no idea what their motive for doing so could have been" Idiots.

    • Drakken

      That is one of the reasons I never ever allow ANA or locals into our camps period! I learned this very valuble lesson in Iraq when I caught one of our supposed allies pacing the grounds for a mortar attack. Long story short I continue to tell the military not to allow them in your camps and always have them in front of you, never behind you and never ever trust them under any circumstance,you'll live a lot longer that way. My only rule of enguagement to my folks is simple, if it tries to shoot, kill it. You will see a lot more of this because the top officials are too PC to complain and are just as guilty as the hadjis.

      • SKIP

        Totally right you are, NEVER trust muslims.

  • Rifleman

    That's one of the problems with an announced and arbitrary pull out date. We're handing it back over to the taliban and like everywhere else we've abandoned to an enemy, the survival odds of the families who aided us aren't good. They will send out, or allow to be sent out some family members on suicide missions against coalition troops, to buy the survival of the rest of the extended family. I wouldn't doubt the taliban has it pretty well organized by now. The taliban used to have to use kidnapping or threats to wipe out a family to get 'volunteers' for their suicide missions. Now they have leverage on everyone.

    When obama announced a fixed bugout date, he announced his intention to win the battles while ultimately losing the war. Then we'll be back to square one in the Hindu Kush, except nobody there will ever trust our word.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mike.villano.71 Mike Villano

      Rifleman hit the bull's eye dead center.

  • Jerry

    Last night on FOX NEWS, General Allen made the statement that the increased killings during the month of Ramadan were due to Muslims having to fast during the day. Either this man is an idiot or a traitor or perhaps both. Yes, I do get a little grumpy when I haven't eaten all day but I have yet wanted to kill someone because of it. Even our military leaders are lying to us just as Obama is and I cannot help but wonder how this will end.

    • Leland64

      If not an idiot, surely a moron. That just about sums our current military and civilian leadership. General Allen is the newest example. General Dempsey's criticism of the OPSEC group, General Casey's concern for "our diversity" labeling the Ft. Hood massacre "workplace violence", the continuing drama regarding Major Hasan's beard, and Panetta's disarming US troops prior to gracing them with his presence seem particularly idiotic. Time and space limits displaying more. Rifleman's post in on target. Keep up the fire!

    • Mark Durie

      Ramadan has always been associated with Jihad in Islam. See for example the founder of Wahhabism waxing lyrical on why Ramadan is a good season for fighting infidels: http://en.alukah.net/Thoughts_Knowledge/0/507/. Of course there are more jihad attacks during Ramadan: it is a religious war, and Ramadan is a religious month.

  • oldtimer

    Get all our evacuation equipment, boats, planes, choppers everything and remove our troops, all at once, unannounced and leave those barbarians to kill each other.

    • amused

      There ya go Pop , I knew you possesed common sense .

  • BS77

    Two thousand of our troops have made the ultimate sacrifice after ten years of a chaotic and incomprehensible strategy to "win" in Afghanistan…..As in the Iraqi war…there will be no unconditional surrender, no victory parades, no celebrations….nothing like that– just a depressing end to two campaigns that cost the lives of thousands, and left thousands more injured for life. As radio hostess Barbara Simpson said, "It is outrageous." True.
    The politicians shrug and say nothing. Is this the same nation that defeated Japan and Nazi Germany during WW II?

  • Metatrona

    Why are we in Afghanistan? It is a zoo where the residents are sub-human. Get out, and let them turn on each other…they will, you know!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.villano.71 Mike Villano

    On one hand the inability or refusal to know why is idiotic or insane but on the other hand the Obama Admin has scrubbed and forbidden the language necessary to describe what is happening.
    They essentially waged an Orwellian war of language against our own troops to the direct benefit of the jihadis.
    Funny how Democrats invariably do things that help enemies murder Americans.
    They just don't feel quite right if they aren't.

    • amused

      you got your head screwed on backwards Vilano.

  • amused

    It's got NOTHING to do with an "Announced withdrawal date " and EVERTHING to do with the nature of slam and Afghans . We shoulda been out of there years ago . Dont blame Democrats , you're all to blame , including the Generals , who fail to recognize the reality on the ground . Republicans want to stay there another 10 years , Democrats didn't pull the troops out soon enough . What both groups of idiotys shopuld do in a [OMIGOSH ] bi-partisan manner , is get our kids THE HELL OUTTA THERE ASAP > for while your DEM/REP pissing contest continues , our brave sons and daughters are made to be sitting ducks .

    • mlcblog

      poison

    • LindaRivera

      Yes! The immoral wars for Islam must stop!

    • LindaRivera

      Yes! Stop our brave American and British military being forced to die for Islam! Stop the illegal immoral wars!

      Why are Americans and Brits being forced to give their blood and treasure for Islam? If the Muslims want to fight wars, let the Muslims fight and let the Muslims use their money!

  • Don

    Did I miss the strategy the Dutch employed after Hurgronje’s insights were accepted? Or did the author neglect to describe it? Seems like a crucial omission to me.

    • SKIP

      I daresay that the U.S. military leaders have no idea what Hurgronjes' ideas were nor anything about his study of muslims and how to deal with them. HELL! ten years into this fuc*** war and they still have no idea of what motivates their enemy NOR how to even identify them.

  • Drakken

    The only way you are going to win on the ground in a muslim country is very simple, kill islam and you win. Is it any wonder that ole Ghenghis Khan was the last one to defeat these folks?

    • SKIP

      Roger that, GENOCIDE WORKS! a PROVEN STRATEGY!

  • guest

    Yes, trying to explain resistance to military occupation of one's homeland is very complicated, thanks for the insights.

  • Ghostwriter

    Most of the Americans haven't harmed anyone in Afghanistan. It sound more like a bunch of religious fanatics to me.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    The loss of life and treasure is only justifiable in securing safety for our Nation, all else is political
    hyjinx that smells of money deals by our elected officials that see us as herd catte to be culled
    and sold for their profit. We must have and explaination of what we are doing and why to
    continue to support war, if it is not forthcoming then our people should return but if fight we
    must, identify the targets and destroy them with expediency, we are at this to long.
    William

  • SKIP

    All this fighting and losses in Afghanistan and Iraq and out REAL ENEMIES, the SAUDIS grow rich, fat and continue to support our terrorists all over the world with the money our own damned government gives them.

  • LindaRivera

    They are devout Muslims obeying the commands of the Quran to kill hated non-Muslims.

    Our military are being offered up as sacrifices to Islam.

  • Drakken

    If you want to know how to fight and win I would highly suggest these so learned political animals call generals open up the playbook on how we won in the Philipines during the 1890's-1910. The Moro jihadist when confronted with American know-how on what they stood for used it against them in spades, the movement collasped after that. Prime example, and American officer galthered 50 Moros and lined them up on a ditch with pig carcases, dipped the bullets in pigs blood and shot 49 of them and let the 50th run away to spread the word. That is how you win.

  • winston

    My sinceretest condolences to the victims and their loved one. But let us be fair. How many of their non-combatants have we killed with our morally indefensible invasions of Afghanistan & Iraq? For all of our 'smart bombs' 90% of all victims have been civilians. We have used illegal weapons like, phosphorus, against a civilian population -'Fallujah The Hidden Massacre' and depleted uranium as a matter of course. So as disgusting as this is, it pales when compared to the staged 9/11 attacks [see ajl/.smugmug.com/911 -and actually do some fact-based research before you respond to this comment] -and the preemptive wars, bombing, invading, and occupying, of countries that have resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent victims over the last 50 years. -Then comment. Please don't imagine, even for a moment, that we are getting the full story from the corporate run media on these issues; we haven't and we aren't.

    The docs: 'War Made Easy' & 'The Power Principle' should enlighten you some if you think these statements come out of wacky left field somewhere. As the smugmug/911 page states: 'Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance' -albert einstein
    "Iraq For Sale" & "Why We Fight" are worth viewing as well.

    • Joe

      Where do you get the 90% numbers? Arab media? Phosphorus is not an illegal substance or "weapon". Phosphorus is used to create harmless smoke. It's also used to burn things, like sensitive equipment that we may need to abandon. Oh….and its also in flares used by the police or a firemen to direct traffic after an accident. Depleted Uranium is used in the tank round known as the Sabot. It is handled by our troops. It is harmless in most cases (key word DEPLETED!!!).
      Military officers do not spend their day thinking up ways to kill innocent civilians. They want to kill their enemy. That's all that is useful. Killing "non-combatants" serves no military purpose.

  • winston

    Pardon, that domain is: ajl.smugmug.com/911 *There is an incredible set of high resolution images there of the North Tower that are also very revealing.

  • Michael Burd

    Now we know what the Israelis have to put up with having these barbarians as neighbors!

    Why should Australians being dying for these arsholes , then they want to come to our country to cause trouble.

    Let them fighting amongst themselves like in Syria and Palestinian Terror – Tories !

  • Leon

    Australia just recently lost three to "friendly" who opened fire at close range.
    http://www.news.com.au/national/five-diggers-kill
    Two others died in a helicoptor crash. Strange coincidence ?

  • Barb

    Mystified?! Seriously???? Please join us for INTELLIGENT discussion on this politically correct war that is getting our fine troops killed unnecessary! http://www.facebook.com/RoE.USMilitary#!/RoE.USMi

  • thedevilweknow

    I watched a rather disconcerting documentary on Starz entitled "Why We Fight." I don't necessarily believe everything I see or hear, but it did make some interesting assertions and connecting of the dots. Just for what it's worth–I'm not endorsing it, but it doesn't hurt to look at things like this and draw your own conclusions.