Deadly ‘insider’ attacks force NATO to scale back joint operations with Afghans

The United States and NATO will temporarily cut back on joint operations with Afghan security forces following a spate of deadly ‘insider’ attacks.

Eight NATO soldiers were killed in three suspected insider attacks – including last Friday’s brazen strike by insurgents wearing U.S. Army uniforms at Camp Bastion airbase in Helmand province – a week after an amateur American-made video denigrating Islam’s Prophet Muhammad went viral and sparked violent protests in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Sudan. The death toll from such attacks have climbed to 20 since August.

Seeking to defuse the “elevated threat”, NATO commanders are reducing the frequency of joint operations with Afghan forces and increase protection for U.S. and NATO troops in certain areas. The commanders stressed these are “prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks”.

“We’ve done this before in other high tension periods, and it has worked well. Under this guidance, and as conditions change, we will continue to adapt the force posture and force protection,” according to a statement released by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. “ISAF will return to normal operations as soon as conditions warrant.”

Read more: Timeline of fatal ‘insider’ attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2012

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quick to reassure Afghanistan that NATO and the U.S. “remain committed” to transferring the country’s security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, when coalition troops are expected to leave Afghanistan.

“We remain committed to our strategy and we remain committed to our goal of seeing the Afghans fully in charge of their own security by the end of 2014,” said Fogh Rasmussen. “Our strategy remains the same. We will continue to partner, to assist, to give advice, to train Afghan security forces.”

‘Green-on-blue’ attacks erode trust & threaten Afghan security transition

But even weeks before the “Innocence of Muslims” video gained global notoriety, NATO experienced a spike in ‘green-on-blue’ attacks committed by Afghan security personnel against U.S. and NATO forces.

August was by far the deadliest month; 12 NATO soldiers were killed in 6 insider attacks last month, bringing the death toll to 42 so far this year.

In response, ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen delayed the training of 1,000 new Afghan recruits and ordered existing members of the Afghan Local Police to be re-vetted earlier this month.

Allen also noted that ISAF has been tightening its vetting process for new recruits, developing new procedures for Afghan soldiers returning from leave, creating an anonymous reporting system, and stepping up its intelligence efforts to combat insider threats.

“The issue of insider threats is very complex and requires a comprehensive, integrated combined response from ISAF and the Afghans,” said Allen. “There is no one single solution or simple means to deal with the challenge posed by insider threats. But I can assure our friends and foes alike that I take this issue very seriously and my entire command is absolutely driven to do everything we can to reduce this threat.”

Preventing green-on-blue attacks will be critical to restoring and maintaining trust between the Afghans and U.S. and NATO troops who are training them to take over security responsibilities in 2014.

Without a strong and effective Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), security in Afghanistan could deteriorate to the point where the Afghan government loses control after U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal and let the country revert to a safe haven where terrorist groups like Al Qaeda could launch attacks against the United States and its allies.

“Throughout history, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces. Instead, they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous forces. In the long run, our goals can only be achieved and then secured by Afghan forces. Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not merely the ‘way out’,” said Allen.


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