Afghan soldiers pay the price as US forces told not to interact with them

American soldiers denied permission to patrol with Afghan forces adding strain to already fraught relationship

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The Independent Online

The line of American soldiers stood facing a jumble of Afghan soldiers. They were trying to get ready to practice some basic drills; clearing rifles and machine guns, applying tourniquets, carrying stretchers and marksmanship. Then the improvised explosive device went off and everyone went running in different directions.

The line of American soldiers stood facing a jumble of Afghan soldiers. They were trying to get ready to practice some basic drills; clearing rifles and machine guns, applying tourniquets, carrying stretchers and marksmanship. Then the improvised explosive device went off and everyone went running in different directions.

The thump and boom of the IED rolled over the defensive wall of the base. The gathered Afghan soldiers peered over at the dark brown cloud billowing up from a village just 300 metres outside the wire. Reports started crackling in over the Afghan lieutenant's radio from the engaged unit. Then the bursts of an Afghan army heavy machine gun kicked in along with the rolling cracks of small arms fire.

Since a wave of violence has been unleashed across Muslim countries in recent days over the US-made anti-Islam video posted on YouTube, Nato's International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) has denied some American units permission to patrol - effectively locking them down on their bases. For days now US soldiers here at Combat Outpost Garda, in Wardak Province, have spent their time sleeping, working out, eating, playing video games, talking on Skype, watching YouTube videos and starting the tiresome process of breaking down their base - anything but patrolling with their Afghan counterparts.

The Afghan soldiers have paid the price. Nearly every day that they've gone out in the past week into the narrow strip of orchards and houses that lie at the bottom of this wide mountain valley, they've been hit with IEDs or ambushed by small arms fire. Though they have not suffered any losses of soldiers or equipment, their relationship with the men who are supposed to be their mentors until the withdrawal of US forces in 2014 has been strained.

Early on Sunday morning, American troops had to tell Afghan Captain Sayed Abdullah they could not accompany his men on a planned mission. His reaction was one of resignation and anger. "This is dangerous for us," he told the American soldier bearing the news. "We have no mine detectors."

Now, with four American soldiers killed by Afghan forces or men dressed in Afghan uniforms on Sunday, and eight killings in total in three incidents over three days, the restrictions have increased. Now the American commander at COP Garda cannot even go to the Afghan Army compound down the hill from the US compound. All interaction between US and Afghan forces has been be suspended for the next 24 hours.

The decision to order US forces to not conduct patrols and to not interact with Afghan forces is adding one more strain to a relationship that has become more and more fraught as the US begins to "pull the rug out from under the Afghan forces feet" in the words of one US commander, to help them stand on their own, as they seek to prepare the Afghan Army and Police for the day when they will not be able to turn to the US and Nato for assistance in 2014.

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