Special operations forces in Afghanistan have resumed training Afghan Local Police recruits after a suspension last month in response to two insider attacks by recruits on their international coalition trainers in August, U.S. officials say.
So far, more than half of the 16,000-member police force has been re-vetted and less than 1 percent have been removed, a special operations spokesman said.
Between now and mid-November, 14 villages will be added to the 70-plus that are guarded by the elite police forces that provide security for their own villages.
U.S. officials at first praised the Afghan Local Police training program for insulation from insider attacks, but training was suspended Sept. 2 after five special operators were killed in two such attacks. In one attack, a local police officer invited three Marines to his home for dinner and shot them at point-blank range.
Since then, coalition reports indicate, detection of the infiltrators is improving.
When a man showed up at a local police site in early September, other members identified him as a Taliban insurgent, the spokesman said.
Under questioning, the man revealed he was sent by a local Taliban leader to kill the local police commander and any coalition forces. He admitted that he tried to infiltrate a nearby site but found it too difficult.
Within the past month, coalition forces have arrested at least three Taliban insurgents and killed at least one seeking to infiltrate or plan more attacks — a promising sign that the U.S.-led coalition is learning how to reduce these attacks.
“It is too early to say that we are seeing a turning point,” said Army Maj. Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). “Clearly, ISAF is focused on preventing insider attacks and have made it a higher priority in light of recent events. This may explain some of our recent success in stopping or preventing some potential attacks.”
Coalition troops have stepped up efforts to prevent and track down infiltrators, including the use of an eight-step vetting process, additional cultural awareness training, close-quarter and active-shooter training, the creation of safe zones on Afghan security force compounds, and having “guardian angel” troops keep watch for attempted attacks. NATO is updating a tactical directive issued in March, Maj. Wojack said.
U.S. officials have gone from describing insider attacks as isolated incidents that resulted from personal grievances to acknowledging that as many as a quarter of the attacks were carried out by Taliban insurgents or sympathizers.
Afghan officials always have thought that the majority of these attacks were because of Taliban infiltration, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister H. E. Ludin told reporters during a visit to Washington last week.
“This is really in the last two to three years when we had to go out and do a very large-scale recruitment because we had to really meet the targets, the recruitment targets set for us by the transition process,” he said.
“I suppose what happened in that process is that we perhaps overlooked some of the crucial screening requirements and, as a result, the enemy used that as an opportunity to infiltrate.”
About 70 percent of all coalition and Afghan troop deaths from insider attacks since 2007 have occurred in the past two years, according to ISAF statistics obtained by The Washington Times.
The nation’s top officer, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, recently visited Afghanistan in an unannounced trip for the second time in two months to address the topic with his Afghan counterparts.
“I can tell you without hesitation they are taking this as seriously as we are and taking active measures to help us and them defeat this threat,” Gen. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on the day after he returned. “So I came back with a renewed sense that we can lower the risk of the insider threat.”
Afghan officials have appointed a top-level army officer to reduce insider attacks, increased the number of counterintelligence agents, directed cultural and religious officers to help NATO train Afghan troops, set up a threat-mitigation team with NATO, and undertaken a “wholesale review of all recruitments” in recent years.
In addition, the Afghan government has allowed NATO personnel working on the presidential compound in Kabul to arm themselves — one example of the Afghan commitment in helping to stem these attacks, a coalition spokesman said.
However, the move also indicates that coalition personnel are not safe anywhere, even in the most secure of compounds in one of the most secure cities in Afghanistan.
The international coalition aims to remove all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when Afghan forces will assume full responsibility for the security of their country.