(WASHINGTON) — Seeking to stem the insider attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan, commanders have scaled back partnered operations in the field between NATO troops and Afghan security forces. The move is being done primarily to ease the risk to coalition troops from the growing number of insider attacks, but it also means troops will be less involved if there are further protests like the deadly 9-11-timed attack against the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi and also protests against The Innocence of Muslims, the controversial anti-Islam film that has stoked Islamist demonstrations around the world.
“We are not going to be conducting as many operations together,” said Maj. Martin Crighton, a coalition spokesman, who said it is inaccurate to describe the scaling-back as a suspension of joint operations in Afghanistan.
It has become the norm for NATO troops to go out on patrols together with their Afghan partners. These partnered operations are meant to help ease Afghan forces into handling security on their own, as NATO forces pull out by the end of 2014. But the U.S. and other NATO partners’ sacrifice and their willingness to help the nascent army get on its feet has been met with having the guns they supplied to their so-called allies turned on them in dozens of terror attacks.
Under the new directive issued Sunday by Lt. Gen. James Terry, the commander of ISAF Joint Command, Afghan and NATO troops will still live and operate together at bases, but when they go on patrol they will go out independently, not together. Sometimes insider attacks occur during joint patrols far from a base.
Lt. Gen. Terry’s directive requires that any joint patrols or operations must now be approved by a regional commander, usually a one- or two-star general. Until now the permission for joint patrols lay with the lieutenant colonels or colonels in charge of a certain geographic area. Now, if an Afghan commander says he wants a joint patrol in a certain area, the approval must come from the general in charge of the regional command.
Maj. Crighton says there will not be a cookie-cutter approach to the approval process as the regional commanders know what works best in their areas. It will have no impact on Afghan forces who are already acting independently of NATO forces and in areas of the country that have not seen as many insider attacks.
Daily partnering will still occur between NATO and Afghan battalion commanders, a step up from the previous practice of partnering NATO company commanders (junior commanders) with Afghan battalion commanders.
Crighton says while the mentoring will still take place, the new directive gives “a bit of space” for troops from both sides to act independently and operate outside of any relationship that might have been causing strain at the lowest levels.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Barbara Starr, CNN
Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
Reed Alexander and James Griffiths, CNN
Barbie Latza Nadeau, Tim Hume and Vasco Cotovio, CNN