French Troops Killed In Afghanistan

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. There was an incident today in Afghanistan that highlights a growing problem for US troops and their allies there. A soldier of the Afghan National Army opened fire on a group of French military trainers. Four French soldiers were killed and at least 16 more were injured. In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reacted by saying French troops are not in Afghanistan to be shot at by their allies.

Nicolas Sarkozy: [Speaking French] We are the Afghan people's friend and we are the Afghan people's allies, but I can't accept that Afghan soldiers could fire on French soldiers. If the security conditions are not clearly established then the question of an anticipated withdrawal of the French Army will be raised.

Werman: This is not the first time an Afghan soldier has fired on allied foreign troops. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary is in Kabul. What's known about this soldier, this Afghan soldier and his motives, Bilal, and the circumstances under which his attack on the French soldiers took place?

Bilal Sarwary: Well, we do know that he is a noncommissioned officer with the Afghan National Army, and that he had a verbal clash. Soon afterwards he fired at the French, killing 4 and injuring 17 others. The Afghan Minister of Defense here in Kabul has sent a delegation to find out more, but we do understand that the Afghan National Security Forces, the French soldiers serving with NATO, the International Security Assistance Force, were conducting a huge clearance operation in what is known as a volatile region.

Werman: This is not the first time this has happened where an Afghan soldier or policeman kills foreign troops inside Afghanistan. Do you know how many coalition troops have been killed by Afghan forces in this manner?

Sarwary: I don't have an exact number, but I know enough to say that this is a very grave problem, one which has created deep mistrust between the Afghans and the international forces.

Werman: Any sense of why it's happening now?

Sarwary: Well, it's very difficult to say why, but I've followed the case of one Afghan rogue soldier who killed six US Special Forces. In this case he was recruited for 3-1/2 years by the Taliban. His uncles were leading the insurgency in that region, and the Afghan government totally failed in terms of counter intelligence to really understand that this was no more an Afghan border policeman, but a Taliban infiltrator. And it's really difficult to have intelligence on people who come from areas where the Afghan government is simply not there. What is really ironic is that a lot of the Afghan National Army and police soldiers have Taliban hypnotic chants as their ringtones on their mobile phones…

Werman: Really.

Sarwary: including those serving on joint Afghan international bases I have come cross in the eastern province of Nangarhar, I saw it in Kandahar last week. If you listen to those hypnotic chants, if you listen to those Taliban songs with their music, they really prey on the most basic emotion of an Afghan. And a lot of those people who come to the Afghan Security Forces come from the country's royal areas with no education and with areas where the Afghan government has never been there. The second big problem that seems to be there is the issue of cultural differences. For example, when I was in the eastern province of Nangarhar I went to an Afghan border police training center where the Americans were training the Afghans. And the problem there was that the Americans were absolutely disgusted in their own words, tired and frustrated that the Afghans were taking hours for their lunch, prayer and tea breaks. And according to the Americans the Afghans there were simply lazy, they were not working hard. Now, if you went to the Afghans in the same camp they would have told you the Americans are using the F-word, they're not allowing us to pray, they're not allowing us to eat, so both sides were involved in a tit for tat sort of war.

Werman: Well, thanks very much for the update. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul.