In addition, these attacks are, again as far as anyone can tell, in no way coordinated. They are individual or small group acts, in some cases clearly after significant thought and calculation, in others just as clearly impulsive. Nonetheless, they do seem to represent a kind of collective vote, not by ballot obviously, nor — as in Lenin’s phrase about Russia’s deserting peasant soldiers in World War I — with their feet, but with guns.
The number of these events is, after all, startling, given that an Afghan who turns his weapon on well-armed American or European allies is likely to die. A small number of shooters have escaped and a few have been captured alive (including one recently sentenced to death in an Afghan court), but most are shot down. In a situation where foreign advisors and troops are now distinctly on guard and on edge — and in some cases are shadowed by armed compatriots (“guardian angels”) whose job it is to protect them from such events — these are essentially suicidal acts.
So it’s reasonable to assume that, for every Afghan who acts on such a violent impulse, there must be a far larger pool of fellow members of the security forces the coalition is building who have similar feelings, but don’t act on them (or simply vote with their feet, like the 24,590 soldiers who deserted in the first six months of 2011 alone). Unlike James Holmes’s rampage in Aurora, such acts, extreme as they may be, are not in the usual sense mad ones. And scattered and disparate as they may be, they have a distinctly unitary feel to them. They seem, that is, like a single repetitive act being committed, as if by plan and program, across the length and breadth of the country — or perhaps a primal Afghan scream of rejection of the American and NATO presence from an armed people who have known little but fighting, bloodshed, and destruction for more than three decades.
If the significance of green-on-blue violence hasn’t quite sunk in yet here, consider this: such acts in such numbers are historically unprecedented. No example comes to mind of a colonial power, neocolonial power, or modern superpower fighting a war with “native” allies whose forces repeatedly find the weapons they have supplied turned on them. There is nothing in our historical record faintly comparable — not in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Indian wars, the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the last century, Korea in the early 1950s, Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, or Iraq in this century. (In Vietnam, the only somewhat analogous set of events involved U.S. soldiers, not their South Vietnamese counterparts, repeatedly turning their weapons on their own officers in acts that, like “green-on-blue” violence, got a label all their own: “fragging.”)
Perhaps the sole historical example that comes close might be the Indian Rebellion of 1857. That, however, was a full-scale revolt, not a series of unconnected, ever escalating individual acts.
Whatever the singular bitterness or complaint behind any specific attack, a cumulative message clearly lurks in them that the U.S. military and Washington would undoubtedly prefer not to hear, and that reporters, even when they are toting up the numbers, prefer not to consider too deeply. To do so would be to acknowledge the full-scale failure of the ongoing American mission in Afghanistan. After all, what could be more devastating 12 years after the invasion of that country than having such attacks come not from the enemies the U.S. is officially fighting, but from the Afghans closest to us, the ones we have been training at a cost of nearly $50 billion to take over the country as U.S. combat troops drawdown?
What we’re seeing in the most violent form imaginable is a sweeping message from our Afghan allies, the very security forces Washington plans to continue bolstering up long after the 2014 drawdown date for U.S. “combat forces” passes. To the extent that bullets can be translated into words, that message, uncompromising and bloody-minded, would be something like: your mission’s failed, get out or die.