Australian troops in Afghanistan have been physically separated from the Afghan National Army to protect the Diggers from their allies after a spate of green-on-blue attacks.
Attacks this year on coalition forces by men wearing Afghan army uniforms – known as green-on-blue, or insider attacks – have almost doubled the record set the previous year.
The divisions the attacks have created between the ANA and the Diggers stationed in patrol and Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) across Oruzgan province is stark.
At FOB Mirwais in the Chora Valley, a barbed-wire topped fence and a locked door now separates the two sides.
An armed Australian soldier, known as a guardian angel, accompanies any Australian going over to the ANA side.
No armed ANA soldiers are allowed on the Australian side.
Before an Afghan army soldier killed three Australians at a patrol base in August, the two forces lived side by side.
Seven Diggers have been killed in three separate insider attacks, and 57 NATO-led troops have been killed in green-on-blue attacks this year alone.
But the commander of 3RAR Task Group, Lieutenant-Colonel Trent Scott, says this isn’t why the army is handing over the bases to the ANA.
“We’re not pulling off them because of insider threat, or an insurgent threat. We’re pulling off them because they’re well on track to be independent,” he says.
The army has previously announced all patrol and forward operating bases will be emptied of Australian forces and handed over to the ANA by the end of the year.
The bases, many built by the Australians, have been pivotal to Australia’s mentoring and training mission of the ANA 4th Brigade.
At FOB Mirwais, 3RAR Task Group troops have been mentoring the ANA 2 Kandak – the Afghan term for Battalion – as well as fighting alongside them on joint patrols.
The base’s commanding officer, Major Judd Finger, says the new dividing wall is a precautionary measure against the insider threat, and not a sign of a damaged relationship.
“You can’t rule it out 100 per cent however our troops will carry on with the ANA and our relationship is still good,” he says.
While 2 Kandak hasn’t yet been officially declared independent, Major Finger says they’re ready.
“The Kandak itself now is independent. So it can operate independently and it has done so for the last year throughout the Chora Baluchi region,” he says.
The ANA operations commander at Mirwais, Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammad Wasseem, says the wall is not “a division that can stop our co-operation… This was only a security measure and there is no other consideration.”
He blames the insider threat on Pakistan: “They train their personnel amongst our personnel.”
On August 29, Afghan army Sergeant Hekmatullah opened fire on five Australian soldiers at patrol base Wahab.
Private Robert Poate, 23, Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, 44, and Sapper James Martin, 21, were killed. The two wounded have not been named.
ANA soldiers at the base had been disarmed except for those on guard duty. The shooter had only just checked out his weapon to begin a guard shift when he fired on the men.
He jumped the fence, ran away and disappeared.
“As for his motivation, look I’m pretty keen to have a chat with him and ask him. And if he shows his face again we’ll do that, we’ll have a chat,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Scott.
A $US5000 ($4785) bounty on his head has failed to result in his capture.
Lieutenant-Colonel Scott says the threat has to be put in perspective.
“We deal with 4000 ANA soldiers on our tour here. We’ve had one insider attack…. so that’s one soldier in 4000 who’s managed tragically to kill our mates.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.