The reason that I led yesterday’s article off with the example of Nidal Hassan’s attack in Fort Hood might not be for the reason you would imagine. While this was a terrorist act in nature, the characteristics of his attack mirror those of a workplace violence incident.  In fact, it meets the exact definition of a Type 3 Workplace Violence incident as defined by OSHA.**  Nidal Hassan walked into a building where he was an employee/supervisor and committed a violent act against coworkers.

The situation in Afghanistan, where uniformed Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) open fire on their “coworker” American trainers, is no different.  To get further and further left of bang, we first need to understand what is driving ANSF to conduct these acts.  It’s a common misconception that these attacks are terrorism and a result of the Taliban infiltrating the ANSF.  In reality, according to a NATO report, only about 10% of these attacks is a result of the Taliban infiltrating the ANSF ranks.  One reason that this number is such a slim percentage of the total attacks is due to the fact that fighting an insurgency is fighting a war of information and intelligence.  The side with the greatest intelligence and influence has a clear advantage.  If the Taliban were successful in getting an agent into the ANSF, it wouldn’t be in their best interest to lose that asset, as he would likely be killed or captured following an attack on American soldiers.  The risk of losing an asset on the inside who could provide information about future missions, the chain of command, security vulnerabilities, etc. would not outweigh the benefit from killing a handful of Americans.

The cause for a great number (90%) of the Green-on-Blue attacks is not terrorism, but the result of personal disagreements between the members of the partnered militaries.  In other words, they are revenge attacks.  These could occur when a member of the ANSF becomes angry over the way he is being treated by the Americans.  It could be that they are tired of seeing their countrymen being searched at checkpoints or having their houses raided at night. In a Pashtunwali culture that is focused on maintaining honor, any attacks on that honor have to be avenged in their eyes.  These causes are very similar to our workplace violence issues here in America, whether they are former employees laid off and angry at their former employees, or an employee who has been humiliated by another in front of their peers, or a coworker with a substance abuse issue who suddenly snaps.  This puts the cause for the attacks on the lower end of Maslow’s Hierarchy and can make some of these incidents more predictable and more preventable.

If we look at these attacks through this lens, that these are personal in nature and breakdowns in personal relationships, it can help us remove some of the biases from our decisions.  By finding common ground between the likely causes of these attacks and the similarity to workplace violence incidents here in America, we can find similarities and begin to focus on the indicators that would lead us to proactive identification of a threat.  We aren’t going to focus on personal iconography (clothing, tattoos, jewelry, etc.) because it is likely that the potential attacker will look like everyone else on the base.  The behavioral domains of Kinesics, Biometrics, and Proxemics will play a greater role in separating these individuals from the crowd.

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School, has written that people are constantly analyzing others in order to determine their “intentions and capabilities.”[i]  The only way that we can get past our biases and accurately judge a person is to find indicators that provide a true eye into these intentions and capabilities is through behavior.  In Afghanistan we often look past the village elder because we see him as old in age, and therefore incapable of doing any harm.  In reality he is probably the most experienced warrior in that village.  Our preconceived notion was an inaccurate bias.  This same concept applies to the Green on Blue threat.  Just because someone is wearing a uniform isn’t an excuse for us to fail to notice the indications of what their intentions are.

By identifying the cause as being personal in nature, we can begin to get Left of Bang by being aware of the stresses experienced in combat and seeking to build personal bonds between American and Afghan soldier.  I see this as a manageable challenge and something that can reduce the pool of potential attackers.  I’m not so naïve though to think that if we are simply nice to everyone, we will never get attacked.  The rest of the articles in this Threats Inside The Wire Series will be focused on identifying the members of the ANSF who have made the decision to launch a Green-on-Blue attack.

** I would like to state that my conclusion about the Fort Hood shooting is a Workplace Violence incident is to look at the root causes of the Green-on-Blue attacks in Afghanistan.  I believe that due to Nidal Hassan’s conversations with Al-Qaeda, that the event should be classified as an act of terror and that the families of those victims should receive the same benefits as a Marine or Solider killed in combat.

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[i] Cuddy, Amy. “Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb.” Breakthrough Ideas of 2009. Harvard Business Review 87, no. 2 (February 2009).