Marine General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, says one possible explanation for a spike in killings of American troops by their Afghan partners is the strain of fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended on August 18. He said that while the reasons for the killings are not fully understood, the effect of Ramadan fasting is “likely among the causes.” There have been at least 32 attacks so far this year, killing 40 coalition members—mostly Americans—ten of them in August.
“The idea that they will fast during the day places great strain on them,” Allen said, adding that the stress may have been compounded by Ramadan falling during the heat of summer and the height of the fighting season. He acknowledged that hunger and heat may not be the primary causes for the killings, but it is among many “different and complex reasons for why we think this may have increased” lately.
Welcome to the Ramadan-Induced Sudden Jihad Syndrome. Presumably next year, the U.S. Army is going to set up counseling centers and group therapy sessions for the Afghan soldiers and policemen who cease to be responsible for their actions due to the “great strain.”
As for the “different and complex reasons,” in Allen’s account the words “Islam” and “jihad” did not make an appearance. In addition to the mental “strain” of fasting, he also cited Taliban infiltration of Afghan security forces and unnamed “personal Afghan grievances” against U.S. troops. Back in Washington, Colonel Lapan, spokesman for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff commented, “we don’t know what’s causing [the attacks], and we’re looking at everything.” As for the experts, Mark Jacobsen, a defense specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and a former senior NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, said Allen’s theory about the role of Ramadan in the attacks is “very reasonable.” John Agoglia, an executive at IDS International, which provides cultural awareness training for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said in an interview that the insider attacks were partly linked to a Taliban effort to “psychologically dislocate” Afghans from their American trainers and advisers.
While the Fasting Factor is a demented fantasy, the insistence on the “infiltration” by the Taliban and its “psychological dislocation” campaign is factually incorrect. As The New York Times reported on August 18, the military has analyzed the attacks and the results have been worrisome: “Only a handful of the 31 attacks this year have clearly been a result of Taliban activity like infiltration. That suggests a level of malaise or anger within the Afghan forces that could complicate NATO’s training program, which relies on trust and cooperation.”
“Could complicate” implies that this has not happened yet, which is ridiculous. In May 2011, a U.S. Army study established that killings of Americans and other NATO troops by Afghan soldiers and policemen were not “rare and isolated events.” In ten months (July 2010-May 2011) over thirty were murdered by Afghan national security forces. The problem escalated following the alleged burning of Qurans at an American military base last February, when two American officers were killed by their Afghan “colleagues” inside the Interior Ministry in Kabul. After that incident Gen. Allen withdrew his men from Afghan government facilities, while NATO personnel in the capital had to limit their contact with Afghan government institutions to cell phones and e-mail. Another crisis started on March 11, when an American sergeant killed 16 unarmed Afghan civilians in a village near Kandahar. The “insider killings” reached a new high after that incident, steadily escalating to two deaths a week in August.
The primary reason for the killings is the religiously inspired animosity most Afghans feel for the infidel in general, and Americans in particular. It is driven by the eminently orthodox dogma of jihad—supported by countless examples through history—that if a Muslim land is occupied by infidels, it is obligatory for the Muslims to resist the kufr—soldiers and civilians alike—and kill them, while pretending to be their friends if this facilitates the desired outcome.
A war waged by non-Muslims in a predominantly Muslim land is inevitably a religious war. This explanation—which is at least worthy of serious consideration by the military authorities, for the sake of the dead and others who are in harm’s way—is not allowed into the discourse of top field commanders, their professional advisors and political masters. They act like oncologists who willfully won’t, or else are not allowed to, diagnose metastatic cancer. Their political masters prefer to stick to their politically correct dogmas than to accept an explanation that is at odds with their world view. As a result, American and allied soldiers die.
In Afghanistan, the hatred of the infidel occupier is combined with studied contempt of Afghans of all political hues for the rhetoric of “partnership,” with which the American political and military establishment remains infatuated. No partnership is possible. History tells us that Muslim soldiers can respect and obey non-Muslim masters, but not in this case. They will do so only when the “infidel” officer commands Muslims from a clear-cut position of indisputable authority.
During World War II, close to 400,000 Punjabi Muslims volunteered for the British Indian Army. From 1936 until the partition in 1947, Muslims from different parts of the Subcontinent accounted for about a third of the Indian Army personnel. Coming mainly from the traditionally martial communities in today’s Pakistan, they were hugely over-represented in the all-volunteer force. They were commanded mostly by British officers, invariably so above the rank of major. Before 1939, they were on station duty in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Aden, the Gulf, Burma, Malaya and Hong Kong—some of the hottest places on Earth. During the war they fought mostly in East Africa, North Africa, Syria, Tunisia, Malaya, Burma, and Italy—except for the last, lands and regions no less hot and often even less hospitable than Afghanistan itself. There is no record, however, of “insider attacks” presenting a problem—Ramadan or no Ramadan.
In the Russian Empire, following the conquest of the Caucasus and Central Asia, Muslim territorial regiments—commanded by Russian officers—were established in those territories that were granted autonomous status, such as the Emirate of Bukhara or the Khanate of Khiva. Elsewhere, regiments of Muslims were incorporated into the regular army—e.g. the Muslim cavalry of Dagestan, the Crimean Tatar squadron—but they were also officered by Russians. They were reliable, loyal, fought well, and endured the Ramadan, it seems, with no great stress—or at least we have no such record.
In our own time, Muslims are significantly over-represented in the French Army—accounting for a fifth of the rank-and-file—but most of their officers are French. While the loyalty of these soldiers is considered uncertain if they were asked to restore law and order in the restive Muslim banlieus, insider attacks are not a problem and an assiduous Internet search has failed to find any link between their disciplinary or behavioral problems and Ramadan fasting.
Last but not least, their German officers were full of praise for some hundreds of thousands of Muslims who served as volunteers, mostly in the Waffen SS, between 1941 and 1945. They came from the Crimea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kosovo, Central Asia—an ethnically and racially diverse group—and yet there is no record of insider killings or the Ramadan Syndrome.
Poor General Allen. He is facing a new, altogether unprecedented phenomenon. And poor Afghan soldiers. They are under such strain…