A question asked on both days: “Should the U.S. modify its Afghan strategy in the wake of those six U.S. soldiers being killed by Afghan soldiers between Feb. 23 and March 1?”
“Treachery has existed as long as there’s been warfare, and there’s always been a few people that you couldn’t trust” was the way Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, put it. On Tuesday, he told the Senate panel: “I’m one of those who has slept peacefully under Afghan boys guarding me back in 2001. No force is perfect.”
On Wednesday, Mattis told House members that the U.S. military relationship with Afghan troops “should not be defined by the occasional tragedies.” He went on to say, “More Afghan boys have died as a result of this sort of thing in a society that has been turned upside down by the Soviets some decades ago. . . . The Kalashnikov culture found its way inside that society and violence has become too often the norm. It’s one of the things we’re trying to turn back.”
But, he added, “in Afghanistan right now, it has not stopped us in our tracks.”
Adm. William McRaven, head the U.S. Special Operations Command, told the senators that his troops “have not had any what we refer to as ‘green-on-blue’ incidents [Afghan soldiers attacking U.S. or NATO personnel] with respect to our partner relationships.”
Another question that came up several times was President Hamid Karzai’s repeated objection to Special Forces night raids on Afghan villages in order to capture targeted, high-value Taliban leaders.
McRaven told the senators that the raids are “essential” and that the high-value individuals “generally bed down at night. They are much more targetable at night. And I think if you look at it tactically, what you find is the Afghans are actually much safer if we target an individual at night because there aren’t so many people out and about in the little villages.”
He also said that Karzai has been told that Afghan forces have taken the lead on night raids. “They are the ones that do the call-outs, asking the people to come out of the compounds. They are the first ones through the door. They are the ones that do all of the sensitive site exploitation,” McRaven explained.
On Wednesday, McRaven told House members that “sometimes for political reasons” Afghan politicians will object to night raids, but that for the most part people approve of them because they remove unwanted people. Mattis added that for Karzai, the raid issue “cuts to the heart of [the Afghans’] self image” and remains “one of the very difficult issues that we have to sort out between us.”
Mattis said that recruitment and training of Afghan security forces is progressing and that the goal of 352,000 will “be reached in 60 days,” ahead of earlier plans.