The insider attacks in which Afghani soldiers and police officers suddenly turn and begin killing Americans is one of the more mysterious elements of the War in Afghanistan. Various explanations are given from secret Taliban loyalties to unexpected violations of mores, but none of those explanations really show why these attacks began to dramatically increase in 2009.
The Long War Journal’s list of insider attacks is revealing.
2013 – 13
2012 – 44
2011 – 16
2010 – 5
2009 – 5
2008 – 2
Some of this might be pinned on the disastrous Afghan surge that Obama championed for political reasons, but that the Gates memoir shows that he did not believe in, but the dates don’t quite match up.
But the Gates memoir unintentionally suggests another possibility.
Lost in the political controversy surrounding former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new memoir is a fascinating account of a failed administration attempt to ensure that Karzai was defeated in the 2009 Afghan elections. Gates is harshly critical of the move, which he derides as a “clumsy and failed putsch” that did significant damage to the U.S.-Afghan relationship.
The main players in this game were Obama’s special envoy Richard Holbrooke and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Instead of working with Karzai, or even remaining neutral, the two men tried to boost the fortunes of his political opponents in an attempt to eliminate him from the election.
The two men, according to the former Defense chief, held highly publicized meetings with Karzai’s opponents, attended their rallies, made a point of being photographed with them, and even offered them unspecified advice. Gates writes that Karzai quickly became aware of the U.S. efforts to unseat him and ultimately cut deals with the country’s warlords to win their support in the vote.
Not only did this clumsy effort by Hillary Clinton ally Holbrooke push Karzai closer to the Taliban, but it may have helped trigger his already overactive paranoia down another path.
The insider attacks had one total effect and that was to keep ISAF forces from working and training closely with Afghan troops. A leader who was paranoid about American influence would have seen that as an effective way of forestalling a coup by his own people.
It may have also allowed Karzai to play both sides, giving select allies on the other side a chance to boost their standing by killing Westerners while the coalition that the alternative to him would be complete chaos.