KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan Defense Ministry officials, trying to stop the alarming increase in ‘insider’ attacks, have given their troops tips on foreign culture, telling them not to be offended by a hearty pat on the back or an American soldier asking after your wife’s health.
A pamphlet with guidance on handling cultural differences between Afghans and their foreign partners has been produced amid great concern among Afghan and NATO leaders about attacks by Afghan soldiers and policemen on the foreign troops training them. The attacks have killed 45 NATO-led troops this year.
NATO attributes only about a quarter of the attacks, called green on blue, to the Taliban, saying the rest are caused by personal grievances and misunderstandings. Last year, there were 35 deaths in such attacks.
“Even minor cultural differences can create misunderstandings and rows... If you or your coalition partner gets angry, stay away from each other until the situation becomes normal,” reads the weighty pamphlet.
The document highlights the enormous cultural divide still separating Afghans from their allies, 11 years into the increasingly unpopular and costly war.
Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi showed it to reporters on Thursday, saying it was intended for the 190,000-strong Afghan national army.
“Coalition troops may ask about the women in your family. Do not take offence, they just want friendly relations with you. In return, teach them that Afghans do not discuss their families’ women with others,” the pamphlet instructs, referring to Afghanistan’s ultra-conservative society.
Putting one’s boots on a desk, blowing one’s nose, winking, taking photos, swearing and raising the middle finger are also given as examples of Western culture which might offend Afghans.
In a deeply religious Muslim country where many pray several times a day, the pamphlet urges Afghan troops not to be upset when NATO troops pass in front of them during prayer, considered disrespectful in Islam.
Both the army and the 150,000-strong national police force are trained by NATO and its partners.
NATO troops are also receiving extra cultural awareness training, said Lt. General Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, adding that the coalition had consulted Afghan army religious advisers.
“We are aware it is a high stress environment with a culture of honor and shame,” Bradshaw told reporters, adding that Afghan soldiers who shot their allies were often killed, so there was no opportunity to question them.
Hundreds of Afghan soldiers have been detained or sacked for having links to insurgents, and NATO measures include improving its vetting procedure and counter-intelligence.
Field commanders have been given discretion to post more “guardian angel” sentries, who oversee foreign soldiers in crowded areas such as gyms and food halls, to respond to any rogue shootings, officials say.
In an interview with Reuters this week, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen dismissed any suggestion that the attacks would lead to more members of the NATO-led force pulling out from the war earlier than planned.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; editing by Tim Pearce