How can the killing of two American military advisers inside the Ministry of Interior headquarters building, coming at the end of a week of rioting and outrage directed at all Western presence in the country, including the killing of two other U.S. soldiers by an Afghan policeman on Thursday, not be a tipping point in our over-long and increasingly pointless commitment to maintain a NATO coalition mission in Afghanistan?
The New York Times story on today's terrible incident (2 Americans Killed as Afghan Unrest Enters Fifth Day) seems to be the best of the still-pretty-thin accounts to be published so far. It gets right to the point by calling into question "the coalition's entire strategy of joint operations with Afghan forces."
The order [to immediately pull all military advisers out of Afghan ministries] by the NATO commander, Gen. John R. Allen, came on the fifth day of virulent anti-American demonstrations across the country, and it was a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.
Although there was no official statement that the gunman was an Afghan, in an e-mail sent to Western officials here from NATO headquarters the episode was described as “green on blue,” which is the military term used here when Afghan security forces turn their weapons on their Western military allies.
The killings, which happened within one of the most tightly secured areas of the ministry, add to the drumbeat of concern about a deepening animosity between civilians and militaries on both sides that had led to American and coalition forces being killed in increasing numbers even before the Koran burning ignited nationwide rioting. And the pullout from the Afghan ministries suddenly called into question the coalition’s entire strategy of joint operations with Afghan forces across the country, although General Allen said NATO was still committed to fighting the war in Afghanistan.
ISAF has said very little about the incident, and released no details. However, I notice that ISAF spokesmen and General Allen have consistently referred to the attacker in the singular (using the words "the person" and "the perpetrator" and "the individual," and never 'the person or persons') which makes me think that someone has a fairly good idea of what happened. But maybe I'm reading too much into that wording.
BBC has a few unsourced additional details, such as that eight shots were fired, that the shooting occurred in the MOI's command and control center, and that "the incident followed a verbal clash."
The WaPo's story likewise said that "one of the [unnamed Afghan] officials noted that the shooting occurred inside a secure room at the ministry that Afghan staff do not have access to." I've seen many similar comments today to the effect that NATO advisers work in a small compound-inside-the compound at MOI headquarters.
A few thoughts about all this:
- I'm sure that a personal security detail must have accompanied the two victims to MOI headquarters, yet there is no mention of them or of any shots they fired in defense. That seems to reinforce reports that the shooting took place inside a secure inner area within MOI headquarters. I assume the advisers would have been closely covered by their protective detail when they were arriving and departing MOI and exposed to armed Afghan policeman and guards, especially after last Thursday's fatal shooting by an enraged Afghan policemen of two U.S. soldiers in the province of Nangarhar.
- We can be sure that MOI headquarters has plenty of perimeter security, entry access controls, visitor screening, and identification/accountability of everyone in the building. The odds that this attack was committed by an outsider, as the Taliban has claimed, are vanishingly small. Moreover, the attacker was someone authorized to be armed inside the building, or else was able to access a weapon after he got there. He was almost certainly an insider, and maybe even an Afghan counterpart to the NATO advisers.
- The attacker was able to walk away afterwards unhindered, leaving the [purportedly] secure interior area of the headquarters and going back into the surrounding general work area, and maybe even outside the building before it was locked down. How come? Most likely because he is a senior official who could just blow past MOI access controls and security. Or else he is someone being assisted by senior MOI officials who are now hiding him.
- The attacker did not leave behind a fall guy to take the blame; for instance, a low-level guard who could be killed and left at the scene with the murder weapon in his hand. How hard would it have been to do that, and avoid a lot of consequences for the MOI? (Maybe that's a cold-blooded idea, but don't tell me the Afghan MOI isn't full of people who would do exactly that without a second thought.) That suggests the attack was spontaneous and unplanned, in accordance with the BBC's report about a "verbal clash" preceding the shooting.
I've seen no statement from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as to whether it, like ISAF, will withdraw its presence from Afghan ministries and severely limit any movements outside the embassy. I assume it will. What else can it do? So, I guess we'll be conducting the very best diplomacy we can during this crisis without leaving the embassy compound.