On Saturday, we learned of a deadly attack on American Green Berets by a member of the Afghan National Police. The Green Berets were from the 3rd Battalion of the 7th Special Forces Group (7th SFG) and were on an operation with their counterpart Afghan Special Operations Forces (ANSOF), conducting Key Leader Engagement (KLE). When the unit had finished their meeting, they moved to a field where they were awaiting pickup, when an Afghan policeman, firing a heavy machine gun, ambushed them. 

Two Americans, one Green Beret, and one SOT-A member were killed. Six Americans were wounded. At least eight of the Afghan SF troops were killed. Of the eight wounded Americans, two are in serious condition, one with a bullet wound to the face and the other with a wound in the chest. The others suffered bullet wounds to the legs. 

This latest incident took place in the Sherzad district of Nangarhar Province, which is located in eastern Afghanistan.

These so-called “Green-on-Blue” attacks are hardly rare and are once again growing in frequency. In the early days of the war in Afghanistan, these attacks were very rare. But in 2011, the number of such attacks rose sharply with 16 attacks on American or coalition personnel resulting in 35 KIA and 34 WIA. 

These insider attacks reached a high point in 2012 with 44 attacks on coalition troops resulting in 61 KIA and 81 WIA. In 2012, 15 percent of all of the coalition troops killed in Afghanistan were killed in Green on Blue attacks. 

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In 2013, the numbers were still high but showed a decrease with 13 attacks on coalition troops. In these 14 troops were KIA with 29 WIA. As the years passed, the number of attacks dwindled significantly down to reaching just one such attack in 2017. But the numbers have been increasing again.

What’s the main motivation behind these attacks? It is difficult to say since different attackers have different motives. The Taliban claim that every Green on Blue attack is from an insider that they infiltrated into either the Afghan National Army or the police. While the U.S.-led coalition increased the vetting and training of Afghan units to minimize these attacks, there seems to be an uptick in them again as the United States is looking to negotiate an end to the 18-year war that began shortly after 9-11.

Many of these attackers could very well be Taliban infiltrators, but NATO officers believe that only about a quarter of them belong to that category. This number may end being much higher than many military officers would care to admit. Many of these attackers are self-radicalized; self-radicalized attackers, similar to the shooter in Pensacola, FL, tend to be the most difficult ones to detect.

Many of the NATO commanders initially believed that these attacks were caused by either personal enmity or cultural differences. But the attacks spiked after President Obama announced his plan to pull back forces, end combat operations in 2014, and shift security to Afghan forces.

However, the Afghan government has long stated that the majority of the insider attacks on coalition forces have been committed by Taliban infiltrators. “The majority of it is a terrorist infiltration in the [Afghan army] ranks and forces which is a tragic thing in itself,” Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister, had said back in 2012.

The data shows (compiled by Long Wars Journal) that through 2017, the majority of Green on Blue attacks occurred in Helmand Province (19) and Kandahar (16), with Kabul having 7. No other province had more than five. This could lend some credence to possible Taliban infiltration.

The motivation behind this particular insider attack isn’t known, and may never be learned.

In 2018, the U.S. scaled back some operations with local Afghan forces due to Green on Blue attacks. In 2019, there were seven such attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces.