In next week’s Marine Corps Times, we’ll have a package of stories highlighting what’s coming this summer for Marines in Afghanistan. Much of it comes from an interview I did Friday with Maj. Gen. John Toolan, the top commander in Helmand and Nimroz provinces, where 17,000 Marines are deployed.
We covered a lot of ground, some of which appeared in this breaking news story last week. Then I asked the general if there was anything else he wanted to touch on.
Not surprisingly, he said he was proud of the troops under his command. But he also added a candid assessment of what it’s like to be training members of the Afghan national security forces, even after dozens of them have killed U.S. personnel in the last few years.
“There’s one threat out there that could really damage the progress that has been made so far,” Toolan said. “There are a couple of threats, actually. Corruption is one. But, the other is this insider threat –you know, that the Afghan security forces in a couple of instances have turned on their advisers, trainers and mentors.”
The glue that keeps the training mission going is trust, and the insurgency knows it, Toolan said. The Taliban has actively attempted to turn Afghan troops against their mentors, “and it’s just an act of courage and commitment every day that our guys step up, take the time, building the relationships with the Afghans, teaching them about their job, and most importantly modeling how to behave when you’re given responsibility and authority.”
The general didn’t add much else to the topic, but it’s a frank assessment of what he and his troops are dealing with. It’s also rings a lot truer than when military officials suggest there’s no pattern emerging with green-on-blue deaths.