The U.S. military provided sweeping details Wednesday of the problem of insider attacks by Afghan security forces against U.S. and other coalition troops, prompting lawmakers to call the screening process for Afghan forces “tragically weak.”
Reacting to Pentagon data showing that 75 percent of the more than 45 insider attacks since 2007 occurred in the last two years, House members demanded that the U.S. intervene more quickly to suspicions that someone might be a threat.
“The screening and vetting has been tragically weak in picking up signs of threats after the Afghans joined either the Afghan National Security Force, or a private security contractor,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Defense officials said they have beefed up the vetting process, warning that safeguards can be improved but there is no way to totally eliminate the problem.
Wednesday’s hearing marked the first time defense officials have laid out the problem in such detail, prompted by the Jan. 20 shooting of four French troops by an Afghan soldier.
France reacted by halting its training program and threatening to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan earlier than planned. The incidents also further erode support for the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, and add more complications to the already difficult mission of U.S. forces.
“We can do more,” said the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, adding that the military must “monitor for problems and err on the side of interceding sooner, rather than later.”
He said if someone isn’t deemed 100 percent safe, then he should not be given a gun and placed so close to coalition troops.
According to the Pentagon, most of the attackers acted out of personal motivation and were not controlled or directed by insurgent groups. The second most common circumstances involved insurgents impersonating or infiltrating Afghan security forces.
The figures do not include an incident Wednesday in which an Afghan soldier shot and killed a NATO service member in southern Afghanistan. International forces and the Afghan army disagree on exactly what happened in the killing, with Afghans suggesting it may have been an accident.
U.S. defense officials laid out the screening process for Afghan nationals who are brought in to provide security for U.S. forces.
The programs include some improvements made after an attack at Forward Operating Base Frontenac in March 2011 that killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded four others.
Since that killing, the U.S. has directed commanders to conduct random checks on private security companies to ensure that all of their personnel are properly screened, including all of the biometric requirements.
Commanders also have to do weekly biometric screenings of local nationals to compare against watch lists.