Nato orders Afghan operation cuts
Nato today ordered a cutback on operations alongside Afghan forces in response to a surge of "insider attacks" on foreign troops in a move that could complicate plans to hand security over to Afghan forces ahead of a 2014 drawdown.
The order, issued by the second most senior US commander in Afghanistan, Lieut-Gen James Terry, indefinitely suspends joint operations for units smaller than 800-strong battalions, where most training and mentoring takes place.
"The need for that will be evaluated on a case by case basis and approved by regional commanders," said Maj Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the 100,000-strong Nato-led coalition backing the Afghan government against Taliban insurgents.
The order, he said, would impact on the "vast majority" of the 350,000 Afghan National Security Force members who will now have to operate without support from coalition allies. That will deal a blow to Nato's longstanding focus on training.
At least 51 foreign troops have been killed in "insider" attacks this year, in which Afghan police officers have turned their weapons on their Western mentors. That represents a rise of more than 40 per cent on similar incidents throughout 2011.
The order was issued after successive weekend attacks by Afghan police left six foreign soldiers dead in the volatile south, from where the Taliban draws most support.
Maj Wojack said Afghan forces had already taken responsibility for security operations in many areas, including districts with a strong insurgent presence, while operations could be approved on a case-by-case basis. "This does not mean there will be no partnering below that level," he said.
The attacks have already prompted several coalition members, including France, to speed up or review plans to withdraw troops ahead of the 2014 timetable for most combat forces, as agreed by the government's Western backers.
Afghan commanders were not told of the order until today, in a hurried meeting with Nato counterparts. That underscored a scramble among coalition countries to contain the damage caused by insider attacks both on frontline troop morale and on fading support at home for the 11-year war.
"We haven't heard officially from foreign forces about it," said Afzal Aman, head of operations for the Afghan defence department.