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NATO axes Afghan joint patrols after ‘insider’ attacks
After a surge in so-called "insider" attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan, NATO decided Monday to end regular joint patrols between foreign soldiers and Afghan forces, but insisted the move was only temporary.
American and British officials have insisted that a decision to end joint patrols between foreign NATO troops and Afghan forces was only a temporary measure in response to a surge of insider attacks, but the move has raised questions about a handover of combat operations marked for 2014.
The decision came after four US soldiers and two British soldiers were killed in suspected shootings by Afghan police over the weekend. So far this year, more than 50 foreign troops have been killed in “insider” or “green-on-blue” attacks, or incidents in which Afghan recruits have turned their guns on Western allies.
"To be honest, we see this as a temporary and prudent response to current threat levels from the US film and insider attacks," Colonel Tom Collins, a senior spokesman for NATO-led forces in Afghanistan told reporters in Kabul on Tuesday.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that reduction of joint patrols with Afghan troops would have “minimal impact” in NATO’s operations in the war-torn country and that there was “no change in policy yet."
"We've got a strategic plan, we are working towards an end of our combat operations in 2014, we're very confident about the way that plan is being executed," Hammond told reporters in London on Tuesday.
Most joint patrols and advisory work with Afghan troops will only be conducted at the battalion level and above, while cooperation with smaller units will have to be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis and approved by RC (regional) commanders,” the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
No Taliban advance
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was on visit to China on Tuesday, also gave assurances about a NATO troop withdrawal and security handover to Afghans by 2014.
Panetta said the spate of insider attacks did not mean the Taliban is getting stronger. “I think what it indicates is that they are resorting to efforts that try to strike at our forces, try to create chaos but do not in any way result in their regaining territory that has been lost,” he told reporters in Beijing.
Early on Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a bus carrying foreign aviation workers to an airport in Kabul, killing at least twelve people. The Islamist militant group Hizb-i-Islami claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, saying it was revenge for the anti-Islam video.
Panetta said insider attacks were affecting morale among NATO troops.
In a separate statement issued by Pentagon, spokesman George Little said the changes in joint operations would always be conducted “in a manner that mitigates risks to our troops and ensures mission success.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)