Forty Dollars and a Trip to Paradise

The First Green on Blue Attack of Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2018 

by Heath B. Hansen

PFC Michael Sall in the only guard tower that existed on FOB Zurmat at the time of the green-on-blue attack. Pictured is an M-240B machine gun. PFC Sall was in the tower on November 9, 2005 during the attack but did not use this weapon, oriented away from the base, to shoot the attacker. He instead made a split second decision to use his smaller M-4 rifle to shoot from the other side of the tower, down and into the base at the ANA soldier. Paktia Province, Afghanistan, 2005. Photographer: Heath Hansen.

We entered the base between the HESCO barriers covered in concertina razor-wire, unprepared for a betrayal from one of our supposed allies. On November 9, 2005, as the convoy snaked its way into the safety of the base walls, I could see Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers watching us from the perimeter. They didn’t wave; they didn’t smile; they just stared. Since the United States invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there had never been an instance of an Afghan soldier attacking Americans, known as a “green-on-blue attack.” But somehow I instinctively had little trust for them. We parked the Humvees and unloaded our equipment. I took off my helmet and body-armor, and set my weapon beside me.

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Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2018

By Heath B. Hansen

I opened my eyes. It was still dark, but I could see the night was ending and another day in some village in Afghanistan was beginning. The smell of dip-spit and cigarette smoke betrayed the fact that the platoon was awake and breaking down the patrol base. “Get the f*** up, Hansen,” was the greeting from my team leader. “Get your s*** on the humvee, we’re leaving in a few mikes.” “Roger, Sergeant,” I replied. It was May 31 2005, and time to win over more hearts and minds in the War on Terror.

A cropped photo of Jason Pegg’s bloodied arm following his and the author’s hearts and minds campaign in an Afghan village on May 31, 2005. Source: Facebook.

We listened to the convoy brief. The platoon would be heading to another village, in the middle of nowhere, to help villagers that probably had no idea why Americans were in their country and couldn’t care less about ‘democracy.’ The typical information was passed down about the scope and purpose of the mission followed by the monotone, repetitive, “Keep your heads on a swivel” and, “Make sure we have full, three-sixty security at all times. Remember your battle drills.”

The platoon set out. One by one, the humvees departed the patrol base and entered the dirt road into the village; the mission had officially begun. As we embarked, I noticed not a single villager was outside their mud-hut. Not a single person was in the fields. Not a single child was running alongside our vehicles, screaming, “You give me chocolate,” or “Amereekan, give me one dollar!” Of the dozens and dozens of villagers we had treated the day before during our MEDCAP [Medical Civic Action Program] operation, not a single one was outside to bid us farewell.

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Overriding Legal Authority in Nation-Building Missions

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An Afghan woman passes by a sign of the New Kabul Bank in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. An Afghan tribunal convicted two top executives of the Kabul Bank, renamed the New Kabul Bank after the scandal broke, and sentenced them to five-year prison terms on Tuesday for their role in a massive corruption scandal that led to the collapse of Afghanistan’s largest bank and threatened the country’s fragile economy. The bank’s former chairman Sherkhan Farnood and former chief executive officer Khalilullah Ferozi were found guilty of theft of $278 million and $530 million, respectively. Farnood and Ferozi have also been ordered to pay back these funds. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 3, No.3, March 2015.

By Thomas Buonomo

Throughout U.S. involvement in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, rampant government corruption has driven continuing instability and hampered U.S. nation-building efforts.[1] Corruption was a major reason for the collapse of the Iraqi military in northern Iraq upon impact with the Islamic State.[2] It is also the reason why Afghans are turning to the Taliban for resolution of their legal disputes.[3]

These are profoundly tragic and frustrating outcomes that can only be precluded in the future in one of two ways: the U.S. must either obtain legal authority from the U.N. Security Councilor, in critical situations, through unilateral measuresto override a host nation’s legal system and hold corrupt actors accountable when local officials refuse. Alternatively, should this approach fail, the U.S. government should refrain from nation-building missions entirely and provide the U.S. military with a mission more closely aligned with its core competency: kinetic military operations.

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Effects of terrorist veterans returning to the West from foreign wars

Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment recently found that most terrorists originating in the West (Europe, Australia, or the US) conduct their terrorism in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. These terrorists are defined as “foreign fighters”. When these foreign fighter veterans return to the West, they are more likely to complete attacks, which are more likely to be lethal (American Political Science Review, volume 107, no. 1, Feb 2013, “Should I stay or should I go? Explaining variation in Western Jihadists’ choice between domestic and foreign fighting.”)

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, we can expect countervailing effects on terrorism in the West. On the one hand, there presumably will be less reason to conduct terrorism, as terrorists use these wars as justification for their actions. On the other hand, foreign fighter veterans will be returning to the West, increasing the quantity, militancy, and experience of the pool of potential domestic terrorists. New justifications for terrorism — for example Western intervention in Mali and Syria — can always be found by those so inclined.