In wake of 'insider' attacks, NATO limits partnered patrols
Stars and Stripes
NATO forces will curtail many of their closely-partnered operations with Afghan soldiers and police as Western officials struggle to limit the exposure of coalition troops to “insider” attacks from the Afghan forces they are trying to train.
Under new rules issued Sunday by Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, “such operations are no longer routine” and now require the approval of a regional commander, according to a statement e-mailed by Terry’s command.
The order ends, at least for now, many of the day-to-day operations that put coalition and Afghan forces in closest contact, such as partnered patrols and the manning of remote outposts.
NATO officials later said the change would be temporary. But however long it lasts, the new policy represents a major shift from business as usual in Afghanistan, where commanders have long emphasized the need for coalition troops to work “shoulder to shoulder” with their Afghan counterparts and decisions about patrolling with Afghan forces were often made by captains and lieutenants at the company and platoon level.
Most of Terry’s regional commanders, who now have to approve such maneuvers, are two-star generals.
The pullback follows a recent spike in so-called “green on blue” killings and concerns that a groundswell of anti-Western sentiment triggered by an obscure video mocking Islam’s prophet could provoke a new wave of deadly insider attacks against Western troops. So far this year, at least 51 coalition troops have been killed by supposedly-friendly Afghan soldiers and police.
After long characterizing such attacks as isolated incidents that didn’t seriously undermine the war effort, U.S. and coalition officers in recent weeks have changed their tune.
On Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey described the attacks as “a very serious threat to the campaign.”
It is unclear what impact the move will have on NATO’s exit strategy, which relies on the training of some 352,000 Afghan soldiers and national police, as well as about 16,000 local police, to take responsibility for the country’s security by the end of 2014. Afghan forces are expected to be in the lead throughout the country sometime in 2013, with NATO forces training, advising and assisting.
But now, rather than mentor the lower-level units that conduct most of the day-to-day operations on the ground, “Most partnering and advising will now be at the Kandak (Battalion) level and above,” the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command, which Terry heads, said in an e-mailed statement.
The statement didn’t say how long the new rules would remain in effect, but said Terry “has not specified that this measure is permanent.”
Gen. John Allen’s ISAF headquarters, to which Terry reports, issued its own statement Tuesday to clarify the change, asserting that partnered operations are continuing even at the platoon level.
“In response to elevated threat levels resulting from the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video, ISAF has taken some prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks,” the ISAF statement said. “This means that in some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased.”
Operations “will return to normal … as soon as conditions warrant,” according to ISAF.
Terry’s directive was issued the same day that an Afghan policeman killed four U.S. troops at a remote outpost in southern Zabul province and a day after two British troops were felled by an Afghan in Helmand province.
It is not know whether the video “Innocence of Muslims” was a factor. The video, privately produced in the United States, casts Islam’s prophet as a womanizing, murdering child molester. It has triggered anti-American protests throughout the Muslim world.
Afghan units below kandak level will continue to operate without NATO partners – unless partnering is approved by a regional commander - and will still receive artillery and medical support from coalition troops, according to a spokesman for the IJC.
The directive doesn’t affect the training of new recruits, according to spokesmen for the IJC and NATO’s training mission.
“Training of ANSF, such as schools and academies, continues without interruption,” the ISAF Joint Command’s Maj. Adam N. Wojack wrote in an email response.
Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said the Afghan military had not been notified of the new approach, the Washington Post reported. “They have not shared or discussed this decision with the Defense Ministry, and we do not know about it,” he told the Post.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told reporters traveling with him in Asia that Gen. John R. Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, took the latest precautions after reflecting on the spike in insider attacks.
“We are concerned with regards to these insider attacks and the impact they are having on our forces,” Panetta said.