Obama: ‘Sticking to our transition plan’ key to stemming Afghan ‘insider’ attacks

President Obama said Monday that handing control of vital national security operations in Afghanistan to local military and police forces will help cut down on deadly "insider" attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in the country.

"In the long-term, we will see fewer U.S. casualties and coalition casualties by sticking to our transition plan and making sure that we have the most effective Afghan security force possible, but we have to do it in a way that doesn't leave our guys vulnerable," Obama told reporters gathered at the White House.

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American and coalition troops are nearly halfway through a four-phase plan to fully transition control of combat operations in Afghanistan to national security forces. The plan paves the way for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in the country by 2014.

Roughly 32,000 American troops are slated to come home this summer, as part of that plan. But that plan has hit a major hurdle in recent weeks, in the form of so-called "insider" attacks.

"We have to make sure "this [transition] model works and does not make our guys vulnerable," Obama told reporters.


In the past two weeks, 10 U.S. soldiers have been killed by their counterparts in the Afghan military and national police in what the Department of Defense has dubbed "insider" attacks.

Nearly 30 American service men have died at the hands of Afghan National Security Forces or militants posing as Afghan troops in the past year.

In the most recent attack, a U.S. soldier was shot and killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday by an Afghan wearing a police uniform, according to a statement issued by the International Security Assistance Force.

Taliban forces in the country have taken responsibility for many of the killings, claiming many of the attackers were planted inside Afghan units by the terror group.

The president expressed "deep concern" about the significant uptick in violence against U.S. and coalition troops by Afghan forces on Monday, saying he planned to discuss the matter personally with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"We got to make sure we are on top of this," said Obama.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reached out to Karzai on Saturday over the issue, a day after two U.S. service men were shot to death by a local recruit to the Afghan police force in the western part of the country. 

The president's comments came just as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan to hold "intensive consultations" on the attacks with Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in the country, and his Afghan counterparts in the Ministry of Defense, Obama said. 

The ramp-up in "insider" attacks against U.S. forces is a sign that Taliban fighters have begun to wither under the U.S. and NATO campaign to route them in Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Monday. 

"We've said for a very long time, perhaps for as long as a year or more, that the pressure that we're bringing to bear on the Taliban is forcing them to look to new tactics," Little told reporters at the Pentagon. 

He also called into question whether these attacks were actually the work of Taliban infiltrators or radicalized sympathizers, or just the actions of disgruntled members of the security forces. 

"I can't say that these [insider attack] incidents originate with the Taliban. Some of them may, some of them may not," according to Little. 

Despite the uptick in violence, the president pointed out that there has been "some success" in tamping down the instances of insider attacks.  

Recent improvements to counterintelligence efforts to monitor potentially radicalized elements inside the Afghan forces have shown signs of progress, Obama said. 

A more rigorous process for how U.S. and Afghan officials vet recruits for the military and national police has also helped U.S. and coalition commanders address the issue. 

That said, "obviously, we have to do more, because there is an uptick over the last 12 months or so" with these attacks, Obama said.