NEAR a tiny checkpoint in Helmand, two Scots Guards work with their Afghan counterparts to clear the area of makeshift bombs.
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been the scourge of what is Afghanistan’s bloodiest battleground for 11 years.
Yet in this insurgent heartland, the Scots troops deployed here now fear another terror tactic more than the bomb blasts, sniper fire or ambushes that happen on a daily basis.
These men are acutely aware that the Afghan working beside them, fighting with them and eating with them may not be a brother in arms. Armed to the teeth, he just might be a traitor with murder in mind.
As the role of International Security Asistance Force moves towards mentoring 350,000 Afghan security personnel to enable the country to stand on its own feet by 2015, the Taleban has sharpened its latest weapon to suit the arena.
This year so far there have been 12 “Green on Blue” killings – compared to nine in total in the previous three years. There was just one such death in 2011.
The numbers are small in comparison to the total number of deaths and the huge level of forces deployed. And the chances of an Afghan counterpart committing an “insider attack” are statistically small. But the Taleban believes the psychological shockwave of such murders will crush the morale of the troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Army medic Channing Day, 25, and 27-year-old Royal Marine corporal David O’Connor were killed by a man wearing an Afghan policeman’s uniform last month.
More recently, the murder of charismatic Captain Walter Barrie, from the Royal Scots Borderers, in Shawqat, Nad-e-Ali, brought home the horrific reality of a Green on Blue killing. Capt Barrie was killed on Remembrance Sunday during a football match with locals.
The majority of Scots troops now deployed are in close daily contact with Afghan security forces.
This battalion, 1 Scots, is at the vanguard of the mentoring process and vulnerable to Afghans planted by the insurgents or “turned” once they are appointed to the Afghan National Police or Afghan National Army.
The army believes some Green on Blue attacks may be nothing to do with the insurgents and more to do with Afghans cracking under the pressure of training and taking extreme measures over petty grievances.
Many Afghans have also lost their lives to Green on Green attacks.
Around 800 soldiers from Walter Barrie’s Royal Scots Borderers are in the ISAF nerve centre of Camp Bastion, training up Afghan National Army soldiers. Their brigade advisory role is key to making the 2015 transition deadline.
The Scots Guards battle group has around 900 soldiers in Helmand, holding ground taken from the Taleban as they desperately seek to make the transfer of security to the Afghans a success.
In Nahr-e Saraj, a unit of Scots Guards 1st Battalion are battling to keep traffic flowing on the crucial artery of Route 611, between Gereshk and Sangin. Their deployment brings inevitable “contact” with insurgents on a daily basis, as they support the Afghan National Civil Order Police (Ancop).
At the tiny checkpoint at Pan Kalay, ten miles north of forward operating base Ouellette, the Guards’ 8 Platoon work side by side with the Ancop to keep the Taleban at bay.
In just two months, the 30 young soldiers have formed close bonds with the Ancop platoon based next door to their battle station.
The station, like many others in the province, will soon be closed as the British forces redeploy, handing over total authority and responsibility to Afghan security forces.
The soldiers have been impressed by the huge improvement in the capabilities of their Afghan counterparts. Despite the unshakeable dread at the possibility of Green on Blue, each soldier is determined to focus on the job in hand. Lance Corporal Stewart Ducie, 20, said the soldiers have no choice but to get on with their job.
L/Cpl Ducie, from Cambuslang, said: “Since we came here, all the deaths have been Green on Blue. If that was right at the front of your mind you couldn’t do your job. It’s always at the back of your mind but you need to get on with it.”
Platoon Sergeant Nigel Heron, from Durham, will regularly hold talks with Ancop to discuss joint operations or share intelligence on the movements of their platoons. He is aware that such open collaboration could spell disaster if an insurgent infiltrated the negotiations.
He said: “There’s always the one you have to watch out for with the Green on Blue issue. It’s never too far from your mind. You have to keep your wits about you and you can’t switch off. But we have a great relationship with the Ancop here.”
Guardsman Aaron Boyd, 20, from Beith, Ayrshire, said Ancop could easily keep the insurgency at bay if left to their own devices come 2015. He said: “The Ancop we have here are superb. The chain of command is great, they are really robust and professional about their job. Their methods are similar to ours.”
Guardsman Boyd told how, two weeks earlier, an Ancop sentry spotted an IED strapped to a donkey that was being led to the gates of the checkpoint, with an insurgent ready to push a button to detonate a charge.
He said: “He spotted something unusual and flagged it up and we were able to disable the bomb.”
Lieutenant Tom Lavington, the platoon commander, said the improvement in that performance of the Afghan security forces was remarkable.
He said: “The commander of the Ancop here has more than four years experience and he is a proper soldier who leads from the front.
“Our relationship with his men is incredible. They came round to our base for fireworks night and everyone gets on very well. They come here and we go there and bonds are made.”
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Howieson said his men took on the task at hand despite knowing that the Green on Blue threat is a real one. He said the close bonds that the crucial 8 Platoon forged with their Ancop counterparts at Pan Kalay meant the Green on Blue threat was effectively reduced, as mutual trust means each side keeps a close eye on each other’s back.
He said: “It takes a lot of bravery to spend down-time with the Afghans when they recognise that there is a risk to themselves. But by accepting that risk, they reduce it. We only get an improvement to Afghan security by operating shoulder to shoulder with them.”