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U.S. troops at risk from Afghan ‘friends’

The deadly “insider” violence against American troops in Afghanistan has gotten some new explanations, though they are quite hard to accept.

Officials in the war zone are now saying that fasting in the hot weather during Ramadan adds to the stress Afghan soldiers and police are facing, contributing to their decisions to turn their weapons on their American and coalition partners who are training and advising them.

Hot and hungry is no reason to shoot someone you consider your friend.

Even more tenuous is a claim by Afghan authorities that the attacks are the result of Afghan police and soldiers being “brainwashed” by foreign intelligence agents. While Marine Gen. John R. Allen appears willing to accept that the fasting and heat might be a contributing factor, though not the primary reason for the attacks, he appeared to be much more skeptical about the brainwashing excuse.

“I’m looking forward to Afghanistan providing us with the intelligence that permits them to come to that conclusion so that we can understand how they’ve drawn that conclusion,” Allen was quoted as saying Thursday.

More likely, these assaults are coming because the Taliban has infiltrated the ranks of the Afghan soldiers and police. It is a certainty that the Afghans who have turned on American and coalition partners, whether Taliban or not, just don’t like us.

The result has been a deadly August in an already deadly year.

According to an Associated Press report Thursday, there have been at least 32 attacks that have claimed the lives of 40 coalition members, with most of those being Americans. That’s a 52 percent increase over the 21 attacks in 2011, which resulted in 35 deaths. The numbers have risen markedly since 2010, when 20 coalition personnel were killed in only 11 attacks.

This month alone — and there is still a week to go — 10 Americans have died in at least 10 insider attacks by Afghans who posed as our allies.

A U.S. defense official, speaking anonymously, told AP that as many as two out of every five of the attacks have no reason that can be determined, which is primarily because the gunmen aren’t available for interrogation. If they aren’t killed by return fire, some escape and those who are captured haven’t given coherent reasons for their murderous outbursts. U.S. officials think only about 10 percent of the attacks this year can be attributed to the Taliban.

If those estimates are correct, it means that most of these shootings are personal because of grievances real or imagined by the Afghan gunmen.

Meanwhile, our own service personnel are under even greater stress. They not only have to look out for enemy insurgents, they have to keep a sharp eye on their “friends” as well. There’s not much incentive to train, mentor and advise when the work you’re doing may be used in an attempt on your life.

It’s all the more reason to look forward to the end of 2014, when U.S. and coalition troops are scheduled to come home.