Afghan army commander defects to rival side

Monsif Khan joins Taliban-allied group, taking with him guns and high-tech equipment.

The NATO-led coalition is grappling with a rise in 'insider attacks' by Afghan soldiers who turn on their allies [AP]

An Afghan army commander has defected to a Taliban-allied armed group, taking with him a truck loaded with guns and high-tech equipment, eastern Kunar province officials said.

Monsif Khan, who raided the supplies of his 20-man team in Kunar’s capital Asadabad over the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, is the first special forces commander to switch sides, joining the Hezb-e-Islami organisation.

“He sent some of his comrades on leave and paid others to go out sightseeing, and then escaped with up to 30 guns, night-vision goggles, binoculars and a Humvee,” Shuja ul-Mulkh Jalala, the governor of Kunar, said on Sunday.

Zubair Sediqi, a spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami, confirmed that Khan had joined the group, saying he had brought 15 guns and high-tech equipment.

US-trained Khan was an officer in a special force unit assigned to conduct complex operations against fighters battling US-led NATO forces and the Kabul government.

Insider attacks

The NATO-led coalition is grappling with a rise in “insider attacks” by Afghan soldiers who turn on their allies, undermining trust and efficiency.

It has reported four lethal incidents over the past month taking the total number this year to 10, according to a Reuters tally.

“Monsif Khan’s story is drawing a picture of the current political situation in Afghanistan, which is uncertainty,” Al Jazeera’s Qais Azimy, reporting from Kabul, said. “Afghans who are working with the government, with the security forces and other sections of the government, don’t know what will happen after 2014 [when Western forces withdraw].”

Kunar, like other provinces along the border with Pakistan, is among the more insecure and volatile parts of Afghanistan.

Local security forces have started a manhunt for the commander and tribal elders have promised to help.

“We are trying our best to use elders’ influence in that area to bring back all equipment,” Jalala said.

A record number of insider attacks – accounting for about one in every five coalition combat deaths – last year prompted the coalition to briefly suspend all joint activities and take steps to curb interaction between foreign and Afghan troops.

That has cut down the number of incidents, but some soldiers say the measures have further eroded the trust painstakingly nurtured between the allies over more than 12 years of war.

All entrants to the Afghan National Security Force have to pass an eight step vetting process, which includes providing identification cards, letters of recommendation by village or district elders and undergoing tests.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies