WASHINGTON -- American and Afghan officials are expanding the range of explanations for a surge in "insider attacks" on U.S. troops, adding yesterday the theory that the burden of fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan combined with the summer heat may have prompted more Afghans soldiers and police to turn their guns on their American partners this summer.
Whatever the underlying reasons, the attacks are taking a toll and raising questions about the risk of American and other coalition troops working side by side with Afghan troops as advisers, mentors and trainers. The close contact is an essential element of the U.S. strategy for putting the Afghans in the lead combat role when Washington pulls out its last combat troops at the end of 2014.
The top commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, said yesterday that, while the reasons for the killings are not fully understood, the effect of Ramadan fasting is probably among the causes.
"The idea that they will fast during the day places great strain on them," Allen said, adding that the stress may have been compounded by Ramadan falling during the heat of summer and the height of the fighting season. He acknowledged that hunger and heat are not the primary causes for the killings, but it is among many "different and complex reasons for why we think this may have increased" lately.
He also cited Taliban infiltration of Afghan security forces and personal Afghan grievances against U.S. troops, whom Afghans have in some cases accused of being brutish and insensitive to local culture and customs.
Insider attacks have been a problem for the U.S.-led military coalition for years, but it has exploded recently into a crisis. There have been at least 32 attacks so far this year, killing 40 coalition members, mostly Americans. Last year there were 21 attacks, killing 35; and in 2010 there were 11 attacks with 20 deaths.
August has been especially worrisome, with at least 10 insider attacks by Afghans, killing 10 Americans, including Marine Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr. of Oceanside.
The Afghan government said Wednesday that the attacks are the result of Afghan soldiers and police being brainwashed by agents of foreign intelligence services. Allen, speaking from Afghanistan to reporters in Washington, said he had yet to see evidence of that.