Army Col. James J. Mingus, commander for 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, is greeted July 16 by Lt. Col. Scott Green, 1st Battalion, 12 Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT, 4th Infantry Division, at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Afghanistan. A quarter of the 16 troops with ties to Colorado Springs killed last year were slain by their Afghan allies. (Army / The Colorado Springs Gazette via AP)
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FORT CARSON, Colo. — The entire time Lt. Alejo Thompson's platoon ate, slept and trained Afghan soldiers at Check Point Bagram, their eyes searched for attacks from the outside the wire.
But the deadliest threat came from within Bagram's 8-foot-high walls.
Two minutes after an allied Afghan soldier sprayed bullets from his M-16 rifle on May 11, Thompson lay dead. Thompson's platoon sergeant was wounded.
The Afghan soldier responsible for the attack escaped out of Bagram's main gate — on his way to be handsomely greeted by Taliban insurgents.
Insider attacks, such as the one that killed Thompson, became one of the most troubling trends of the Afghanistan war in 2012.
A quarter of the 16 troops with ties to Colorado Springs killed last year were slain by their Afghan allies. Across the war zone, deaths from "green-on-blue attacks" nearly doubled in 2012, The Associated Press reported.
Fresh from leading the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team through a nine-month deployment to the country, Col. James Mingus said insider attacks aren't likely to end anytime soon.
Three soldiers in his unit died from the attacks — the same number of his troops that died from roadside bombs, the long-held weapon of choice by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It was almost a natural course of things that they (insurgents) were going to start trying to infiltrate the organization that we are affiliated with," Mingus said. "And it was very effective."
The threat was such that Mingus created an "insider threat cell" — one or two soldiers in a unit or battalion that worked with Afghans to field leads and track down Afghans believed to be planning an attack.
The intelligence cells received about 36 leads and detained 15 to 20 Afghans, Mingus said.
"To the Afghans' credit, they realized that, OK, the threat wasn't just against us," Mingus said. "They were killing themselves."
The attack on Thompson's platoon doesn't appear to have been planned by the Taliban.
Rather, the 22-year-old man who attacked on May 11 started out as an Afghan National Army soldier willing to fight insurgents, the New York Times reported.
And he struck when Thompson was most vulnerable — moments after the officer drank chai tea with an Afghan officer, his body armor set to the side, according to an incident report obtained by The Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act.
At 8:25 a.m., the Afghan fired his rifle into the air, then at the American vehicles in a "spray and pray" technique, the report said.
A stray bullet hit one coalition soldier, and one person managed to fire about 10 rounds at the shooter. During the brief firefight, Thompson ran across an open area, the report said.
He fell to the ground halfway, struck by a bullet.
Moments later, during a lull in the fight, the Afghan soldier stepped closer to Thompson and shot him in the head.
As a few soldiers traded fire with the Afghan soldier, most other Americans checked the outpost's perimeter for advancing insurgents — apparently unaware the threat was on the inside, the report said. Minutes after firing the first shot, the Afghan escaped.
The report on Thompson's death did not fault anyone with his platoon for acting improperly before the attack.
"The fundamental truth of green-on-blue attacks is there is no complete defense against a dedicated attacker willing to die," the report said, adding that the Afghan-coalition partnership "requires a high degree of trust; unfortunately, trust can be abused."
Eroding trust lies at the bedrock of the attacks — putting some strain on the U.S. and Afghan relations, said Seth Jones, associate director at RAND Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center.
"If Afghan soldiers or police are killing Americans, it has led to questions about the utility of spending so much money on building a security force apparatus if some soldiers are killing Americans," Jones said.
Personal vendettas have motivated many attacks over the years in Afghanistan. Attacks also come at the hands of Afghan forces who go on leave and become swayed to turn on their coalition allies when their family decries service in the Army as dishonorable, Mingus said.
Only after a few years in the Afghan Army did the man, known as Mahmood, turn against his Fort Carson counterparts, the newspaper reported.
He became influenced by residents of Afghanistan's Kunar province, who complained about foreigners killing Afghans, along with alleged abuses by American troops and instances where foreigners insulted the Prophet Muhammad, the newspaper reported.
Instead of asking for help from the Taliban, Mahmood asked for them "not to shoot me" after he fled the upcoming attack, the newspaper said.
"Even the Taliban didn't think I would be able to do this," Mahmood told the New York Times.
While pessimistic that the insider threat will go away, Mingus said it will eventually "balance out."
He said that the attacks demonstrate a need to work closer with the Afghans.
"You can't pull apart, you almost have to get closer," Mingus said. "Because the closer you are to your partner, and the greater the trust amongst the leadership, the greater sense that you have when one of these things start to occur."