The NATO-led force in Afghanistan is suspending some joint military operations after a rising number of deadly attacks on U.S. and allied troops by their Afghan counterparts.
General John Allen, commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s coalition forces, “has directed all operational commanders to review force protection and tactical activities in the light of the current circumstances,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement today from Beijing, where he’s traveling with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The new policy “will likely lead to adjustments in exactly how, when and where” troops from the International Security Assistance Force operate, he said.
The changes will mean that partnership between NATO and Afghan forces will “now be at the Kandak (Battalion) level and above,” Little said. Joint operations by smaller units will be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis and approved” by commanders, he said.
The new directive comes after several so-called insider attacks by Afghan police and military units in recent months have led to the deaths of U.S. and other Western soldiers. The training of Afghans to take on security duties as NATO forces leave is a key element of the U.S. and allied withdrawal strategy.
ISAF later issued a statement saying that the only change to its approach resulted from the anti-Islamic film, the “Innocence of Muslims,” which has caused riots and protests across the Muslim world.
These were “prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks,” it said. “In some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased.”
So far this year, there have been 37 so-called green-on-blue attacks, resulting in the deaths of 51 coalition troops at the hands of Afghan allies or infiltrators, compared with 35 deaths last year, according to the NATO-led ISAF in Kabul. In 2008, there were two insider attacks.
In the latest strike, four U.S. soldiers who went to help Afghans during a battle with militants at a remote checkpoint were killed on Sept. 16, apparently by Afghan police, according to the Associated Press. It was the third attack by Afghan forces or militants dressed in security uniforms in three days.
Asked about the decision at a news conference in Beijing, Panetta said the rising violence against coalition troops will not alter President Barack Obama’s decision that all U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan by 2014. The increase in attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan doesn’t mean that the Taliban is gaining ground, Panetta said.
The Taliban is resorting to attacks to strike “at our forces but these do not result in any way regaining territory that has been lost,” he said after meeting his Chinese counterpart.
There is no change to the British strategy in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary William Hague told a House of Commons committee hearing today.
“We will not be giving in to green-on-blue attacks -- we will improve our capability to deal with that,” he said. “The Taliban should be very clear that our strategy has not changed in Afghanistan. To give any other response would be to increase the incentive for these attacks.”
The U.K. is the second-largest troop contributor to ISAF. On Sept. 15, two British soldiers were shot and killed by a “rogue” policeman in Helmand province, the Ministry of Defence said.
U.S. and NATO officials have said that joint operations are critical to train Afghan military and police units to take over security when U.S. and allied forces leave in 2014.
The Afghan national security forces have grown to 344,108 personnel as of March from 284,952 a year earlier, according to U.S. Army Major Adam Wojack, a spokesman for ISAF in Kabul. The Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are ahead of schedule to reach their projected combined force of 352,000 by October, he said.