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The progress report offered three main scenarios for locals turning on allies: a Taliban plant able to sneak through the screening process; a soldier or policeman who succumbs to outside influence, what the command calls “co-option”; and an Afghan who becomes personally offended by or disgruntled with Western troops.

“The rise in insider attacks has the potential to adversely affect the Coalition’s political landscape,” the Pentagon said. “While small in number, insider attacks have the potential to significantly disrupt the Coalition mission in Afghanistan.”

Eight-step vetting process

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s fugitive leader who escaped the U.S. invasion in 2001, knows the growing importance of turncoats, military officials say.

“The Taliban has adapted its propaganda, hoping to inspire attacks through themes of praise, revenge, and provision of support and sanctuary,” the Pentagon said. “For example, in Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar’s August 2012 Eid al-Fitr address, he praised [Afghan National Security Force] members who conduct insider attacks and urged other ANSF to do as ‘your brave friends have done.’”

Late last year, the command set up the Insider Threat Mitigation Team, an oversight group of Afghan and NATO leaders whose mission is to drive the bureaucracy to do better screening and monitoring to weed out traitors.

Afghan recruits now are subjected to an eight-step vetting process that includes tribal elders vouching for an applicant, criminal background checks, medical screening and drug tests.

An Afghan soldier now is trained specifically on the cultural differences between Muslim-dominated Afghanistan and Western countries such as the United States.

Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said at a Pentagon news conference in January that defeating homicidal insiders is now part of the overall campaign plan.

“I’m sure you’re very aware of the vetting and the counterintelligence efforts that are ongoing there, to beat back that threat,” Gen. Terry said. “We’re constantly aware there.”

Still, observers do not expect the Taliban to give up on insider attacks as they have lost territory to the allies during the past two years. The Taliban could shift more toward directing insiders to kill fellow Afghans who are taking the lead in counterterrorism missions.

“It is a cheap and effective technique that attracts media coverage so the Taliban will continue to make it a major focus of their tactics in the coming years,” the Army officer told The Times.