British servicemen voice fears over Afghans they train
- 1 June 2012
- From the section UK
Three men - all with experience of serving in Afghanistan and of working closely with the local police and army - have told the BBC they believe the lives of British soldiers are being put at risk by the very Afghan forces they are supposed to be training.
A sergeant with the Royal Air Force, a lance corporal in the army, and a former paratrooper spoke anonymously about their concerns, which stem from an increase in "green on blue" attacks - so called because of the colours representing Afghan (green) and Nato (blue) forces.
A few weeks ago two British soldiers were killed by Afghan policemen, bringing the total of British personnel to have died in similar attacks since 2009 to 12.
The lance corporal I spoke to pulled up outside a remote train station in a white van and dressed in full combat gear. Sitting under a tree after a short stroll to a nearby park, the young soldier began telling me about the Afghan National Army (ANA).
"Some of them are professional but then they're let down by the guys who aren't," he explained.
"There are a number of times when you go to take over from the guys and they're absolutely off their heads either on substances that grow in the country or what they can get their hands on basically.
"And they're the ones in the evening that are supposed to be protecting the guys in the PBs (patrol bases). You just don't trust them to keep you safe or not to lash out at you."
His words are echoed by his comrade in the RAF who reflected on his time with the Afghan National Police (ANP) during a tour of duty last year.
He told me: "The way they look at you when you're disciplining them - if it was a British soldier and you were up there in his face, shouting at him, bawling at him, correcting his skills and drills - the guy would take it.
"With the Afghans, you can't trust them. They look at you as if to say 'You've insulted my grandmother. I'm not taking it from you' and you're just not sure what they're going to do to you."
But without trust, the men said, the process of training the local forces is stressful. They told me that causes tension and undermines what they are trying to do.
Corruption is another worry, with claims that the UK's Afghan allies switch sides depending on who offers the biggest bribe.
The paratrooper is from Wales - and served alongside the ANP for 12 months. He says his experience wasn't a good one. On several occasions, he added, he witnessed things that made him think twice about what he was doing: "Everything can be bought with money. It's just the way it is. It's a very corrupt society and you'll never change that.
"When we went to search this ANP officer's house, under the floor hidden in a box was also an ANA soldier's uniform, which he was also using to do illegal VCPs, vehicle checkpoints, during which he was taking money from people he was stopping. Very disloyal and very untrustworthy person," he said.
The Ministry of Defence says that the "green on blue" attacks "involve only isolated rogue elements within the Afghan National Security Forces, the overwhelming majority of whom continue to demonstrate strong commitment to their partnership with Isaf".
Isaf is the International Security Assistance Force, Nato's military presence in Afghanistan.
The senior British commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Doug Chalmers, is now on his fourth tour of duty in the country. He told me that although he "recognised many of the insights" from the three men, from his own earlier tours, the average quality of the Afghan security forces was now "significantly better than I anticipated.
"There is still work to be done and it's not risk-free and I'm afraid some of these incidents may well continue to take place... but there has been significant improvement."
Nato's goal in Afghanistan is to train the Afghan forces so they can safeguard the country's security. But the rise in "green on blue" attacks undermines the trust that is vital to both Nato's exit strategy and the country's future.
The sergeant told me he wants ministers to take note of the fear he and his comrades often feel when working on the ground with their Afghan allies.
"Hopefully by one or two of us opening up to you without giving my name, the government and MoD might think there's a little bit more we can do to make them feel safe and secure," he said.