The bad news out of Afghanistan won’t stop. It’s like the longest nightmare ever and we just can’t wake up.
After seven green-on-blue attacks in the last eleven days, Gen John Allen has ordered all ISAF troops stationed on Afghan bases to remain armed at all times. The story does not specify if this order requires forces to be Condition 3 (magazine inserted, chamber empty) or Condition 1 (magazine inserted, round in chamber, weapon on safe).
When I last wrote about the green-on-blue problem in April, I wondered about this specific issue. Many observers will wonder why this order was such a long time coming, myself among them. But I think it would be a mistake to conclude that these pernicious attacks will be stopped simply because advisors are keeping their weapons loaded. To draw such a conclusion is akin to saying a movie theater patron with a concealed weapon would have stopped James Holmes before he killed twelve people.
I don’t recall a specific order from my team leader or our higher headquarters about our weapons condition. We were issued an M-4 carbine and an M-9 pistol as advisors. I carried both on the 200m walk from the advisor compound to my office. The advisor building was a windowless building located amongst the Iraqi office buildings. We had one entrance, with a high table just inside the door and sandbags stacked underneath. We kept two M240B machine guns nearby, I guess in case the Iraqis decided to lay siege to our building.
I never went to see my counterparts without my M-9 in Condition 1 status. Never. And this was in Iraq where the insider threat was much, much lower, maybe even nonexistent compared with the current situation in Afghanistan.
In the beginning, I tucked my utility blouse behind my hip holster so that the weapon could be easily seen, and reached. I tried to sit at the table with my back to a wall so that I could see everyone in the room and anyone who entered. After a couple months, once I got to know everyone (and some modicum of trust was established), I began covering my holster with my blouse. I sat with my back to the door. I let my guard down. Not so much that I was totally oblivious to my surroundings, but I definitely wasn’t constantly “at the ready.”
I’d like to think that I could have reacted quickly enough to save my life had someone walked in with a loaded AK and started spraying bullets indiscriminately. But the truth is I’m not sure that’s the case. The USMC taught me how to aim and fire the M-9 with lethal consistency, but it didn’t teach me how to draw like Doc Holliday. Not that it would have mattered–the aggressor in these attacks has the advantage.
Gen Allen’s order is welcome news, and long overdue. But we should temper our expectations about it making a significant difference in the lethality of green-on-blue attacks. Far more important than weapon status is the advisor’s mental alertness. Regular troops are used to keeping their guard up outside the wire, but everyone needs a place where they can let it down and recharge. At this point, ISAF advisors aren’t afforded this luxury. This obviously takes a toll over the course of a six- or twelve-month deployment.
Carrying a Condition 1 weapon is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for better protecting advisors. Hopefully, it will save some lives. But it wouldn’t surprise me if our advisors were abiding by Gen Allen’s order long before he issued it.