In 2007, a new phenomenon reared its ugly head in Afghanistan. With two attacks that year and two more the next, it was first dubbed “green-on-blue violence,” and later the simpler, blunter “insider attack.” At one level, it couldn’t have been more straightforward. Afghan soldiers or policemen (or in a small number of cases Taliban infiltrators) would suddenly turn their weapons on their American or NATO mentors or allies and gun them down. Think of these “incidents” as early votes in the Afghan elections -- not, as Lenin might once have had it, with their feet, but with their guns after spending time up close and personal with Americans or other Westerners. It was a phenomenon that only intensified, reaching its height in 2012 with 46 attacks that killed 60 allied soldiers before slowly dying down as American combat troops began to leave the country and far stricter controls were put in place on relations between Afghan, U.S., and allied forces in the field.
It has not, however, died out. Not quite. Not yet. In a uniquely grim version of an insider attack just two weeks ago, an Afghan police commander turned his gun on two western journalists, killing Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding AP reporter Kathy Gannon. And even more recently, just after it was reported that a month had passed without an American death in a war zone for the first time since 2002, Army Specialist Ivan Lopez killed three fellow soldiers in an insider attack at Fort Hood, Texas.
With its hint of blowback, this is not, of course, a comparison anyone in the mainstream American media is likely to make. On the whole, we prefer not to think of our wars coming home. In reality, however, Lopez’s eight-minute shooting rampage with a pistol purchased at a local gun shop fits the definition of an “insider attack” quite well, as did the earlier Fort Hood massacre by an Army psychiatrist. Think of it as an unhinged form of American war coming home, and as a kind of blowback unique to our moment.
After all, name me another wartime period when, for whatever reason, two U.S. soldiers shot up the same base at different times, killing and wounding dozens of their fellow troops. There was, of course, the “fragging” of officers in Vietnam, but this is a new phenomenon, undoubtedly reflective of the disturbing path the U.S. has cut in the world, post-9/11. Thrown into the mix is a homegrown American culture of massacre and the lifting of barriers to the easy purchase of ever more effective weaponry. (If, in fact, you think about it for a moment, most of the mass killings in this country, generally by young men, whether in schools, movie theaters, shipyards, or elsewhere, are themselves a civilian version of “insider attacks.”)
Ironically, in 2011, the Obama administration launched a massive Insider Threat Program to train millions of government employees and contractors to look for signs in fellow workers of the urge to launch insider attacks. Unfortunately, the only kind of insider attacks administration officials could imagine were those attributed to whistleblowers and leakers. (Think: Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.) So, despite much official talk about dealing with the mental health of military men, women, and veterans, the military itself remains open to yet more insider attacks. After almost 13 years of failed wars in distant lands, think of us as living in Ameraqafghanica.
This week, in “How America’s Wars Came Home With the Troops,” Ann Jones, whose odyssey of a book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story, captures the truly painful cost of these wars for America’s soldiers like no other, points out just what commentators in this country have avoided writing about and every government and military official up to the president has avoided talking about, despite the massive coverage of the Fort Hood killings: there has been next to no mention of the trail of blood and death that has led, in these last years, from our distant battlefields across this country to Fort Hood, “insider attacks” of every sort by returning vets.