The top allied commander in Afghanistan said insider attacks by Afghans against U.S. and coalition troops won’t disrupt strategy and won’t require pulling back troops.
“My initial belief is we should not pull back in our contact with the Afghans,” U.S. Marine General John Allen told reporters today by satellite from Kabul. “We perhaps need to be more watchful.”
Insider killings of Western troops by Afghan forces and other allied Afghans have raised questions about a U.S. strategy that depends on training and developing the Afghan army and police so that coalition combat troops can leave by the end of 2014.
There have been 40 insider killings so far this year, including 10 in the past three weeks, compared with 35 in all of 2011, according to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which Allen heads.
“We are working that issue very hard with our Afghan partners and it’s a top priority for me,” Allen said.
The general indicated he doesn’t agree with an assertion by the Afghan government that spy agencies from other countries were behind most of the attacks.
“I’m looking forward to Afghanistan providing us with the intelligence that permits them to come to that conclusion,” Allen said. U.S. officials have attributed most of the episodes to personal grievances and stress on Afghan forces.
About 25 percent of the attacks stem from Taliban insurgents who infiltrate and impersonate Afghan forces or who coerce Afghan soldiers to turn against the coalition, Allen said.
The rest may stem from “animosity which may have grown between the individual shooter and our forces in general, or a particular grievance,” he said.
Asked why there has been a rash of attacks in recent weeks, with 10 so far this month, Allen cited influences including personal grievances, stress from an increased tempo of operations and the daily pressure of having to fight while fasting for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter this week to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, requesting a “counterintelligence survey” of Afghan security forces to address the likelihood of “serious vetting problems,” including Taliban infiltration.
Allen’s assessment that most attacks aren’t Taliban-generated suggests improved vetting of Afghan soldiers may not solve the problem.
The attacks and new precautions aimed at preventing them “are creating distrust right at a time when the U.S. needs to work more closely with Afghans,” Kenneth Katzman, an Afghanistan specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said in an interview this week.
Allen said he will redouble his efforts to work more cooperatively with Afghan forces.
“The closer the relationship, the more secure, ultimately, our troops will be,” he said.
With 28 months left before U.S. and allied combat forces are set to withdraw, Allen said Afghan security forces are “very close” to reaching their maximum strength of 352,000 troops, a goal set for Oct. 1.
The transition to Afghan-led security in the war-torn country will take time, and the Afghan forces won’t be fully equipped until the end of 2013, he said.
When coalition forces leave in 2014, Afghanistan will enter a “decade of transformation” marked by “lots of challenges still,” he said.