Nato's Afghan joint patrol curbs a 'prudent' measure

Nato's Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "Our partnership with the Afghan forces continues"

Nato's decision to scale back joint operations with Afghan security forces is a "prudent and temporary measure", its secretary general has said.

Speaking in Brussels, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the strategy of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) "remains the same".

Nato's move follows a string of attacks on Isaf troops by Afghan personnel, or people wearing Afghan uniforms.

Such attacks have killed 51 Nato soldiers this year, 15 in August alone.

In 2008, just two soldiers died in such attacks - though Isaf and Afghan force numbers have also increased substantially in that period - and a fifth of UK soldiers killed this year in Afghanistan were killed not by insurgents, but by Afghan soldiers or police.

Many more Afghans have also been killed in such attacks.

Isaf said that as of Sunday, all operations under battalion level - large operations involving several hundred troops - were being judged on a case-by-case basis and needed approval from a senior regional commander.

Analysis

The shift in Nato's operational procedures has not been well explained. Considerable confusion remains as to what exactly will or will not change on the ground.

A Nato spokesman says that partnering operations below battalion level will have to be approved by a senior regional commander; the British defence secretary in contrast suggests most UK-Afghan operations will continue unchanged down to company level.

Clearly the aim is to reduce the exposure of Nato personnel to potential attack by uniformed Afghans.

The cumulative effect of these attacks strikes at the very core of Nato's mission.

With most Nato combat troops due to leave in 2014, operations are in transition between counter-insurgency and a training and mentoring role.

But training and mentoring require trust and a functioning relationship between Nato and Afghan personnel. It is this the so-called "green-on-blue" attacks destroys, and thus their significance goes well beyond the numerical count of the casualties they cause.

This was partly because of the rise in insider attacks - so-called "green-on-blue" incidents - but also "in response to elevated threat levels" caused by the violent protests in several countries, including Afghanistan, over an anti-Islam film made in the US.

Mr Rasmussen said Isaf and Afghan soldiers "will continue to operate together", and repeated the Nato statement that the measures taken "are prudent and temporary in response to the current situation".

"We have said all along that we will take every step necessary to minimise the risk to our troops, and that's what we are doing," he said.

"Let me be clear, we remain committed to our strategy. And we remain committed to our goal of seeing the Afghans fully in charge of their own security by the end of 2014.

"So that is the bottom line. The goal is unchanged, the strategy remains the same and the timeline remains the same."

'New threat'

Mr Rasmussen also denied that the move was a victory for the Taliban, which has claimed most of the attacks. Rather, he said it was a sign that "Afghan security forces are able to operate on their own".

A White House spokesman said the decision would have no effect on the American timeline for withdrawing troops and handing over fully to the Afghans.

"That process continues," said Jay Carney.

The Isaf announcement has sparked a row in the UK - which has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan.

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had said on Monday that the insider attacks would not derail Isaf's strategy in Afghanistan. But the BBC has learned that the policy shift became "effective" on Sunday, leading to accusations from one MP that Mr Hammond had either misled parliament or had not been informed of the change.

The Afghan ministry of defence has said it was not formally notified of the changes until a hurriedly convened meeting with Nato on Tuesday.

World affairs editor John Simpson said there were "signs of panic" on the part of the United States, which had led to Nato changing its mind before there was time to inform the UK and Afghan governments.

Afghan 'green-on-blue' attacks

  • 2007 - 2 attacks, 2 Isaf soldiers dead
  • 2008 - 2 attacks, 2 dead
  • 2009 - 6 attacks, 10 dead
  • 2010 - 6 attacks, 20 dead
  • 2011 - 21 attacks, 35 dead
  • 2012 (so far) - 36 attacks, 51 dead

Source: International Security Assistance Force (Isaf)

The BBC's Bilal Sawary in Kabul says the new procedures will be a huge morale blow to the Afghan forces, who often rely on the better-equipped and more experienced Isaf troops to come to their aid when they are under attack.

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin acknowledged that attacks by infiltrators were "a new form of threat" but said Afghanistan had "taken this whole issue... seriously, not just yesterday or the day before, this has been weeks".

He said the Nato step was "understandable, but let's not blow it out of proportion"

The partnership will continue and 2014 remains the date at which Afghanistan will take full responsibility for security, he said.

Correspondents say the Isaf shift is clearly aimed at sending a signal to the Afghan government that it must improve its vetting of new entrants to the Afghan army and police force.

But with 7,000 new recruits a month joining the Afghan army alone, it is a huge challenge to ensure Taliban militants do not slip through the net, they say.

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