DOD, NATO 'looking hard' at Taliban double agents in Afghan forces

U.S. and NATO forces are "looking really hard" at whether the recent spike in insider attacks against coalition forces can be tied to Taliban double agents working within the Afghan security forces, according to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations Brig. Gen. Roger Noble of the Australian Army. 

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Noble, who briefed reporters at the Pentagon from ISAF headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday, said the recent spate of insider attacks falls in line with the Taliban's increasing reliance on "extreme tactics" to combat coalition forces in country. 

Such attacks "fit right into that box of [limited] things to do" against the massive contingent of American and coalition troops, Noble said. "It's a pretty tough thing to stop."

While past instances of insider attacks "have kept pace" with the rapid growth of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the recent spike in attacks has presented a serious problem to U.S. and coalition forces, who are planning to leave the country by 2014, Noble said. 

Noble admitted the insider attacks have had a extreme psychological impact on U.S. and NATO forces, compared to traditional battlefield casualties suffered in war. 

"It's one thing to be [killed in action] ... but to be shot in the back of the head at night by your friend" is something altogether different, Noble said. 

To that end, American and NATO officials have developed a psychological profile of potential Afghan turncoats, based on past insider attacks on coalition troops, according to Noble. 

ISAF officials are also considering options on how to keep tabs on ANSF troops when they return to their towns and villages while on leave from their units. 

"Leave is a problem," Noble said, noting that many Afghan troops are either recruited by local Taliban forces or pressured by those forces to attack U.S. troops during that time away from their units. 

The lack of adequate processes to verify the identities of ANSF recruits or soldiers returning from leave is also a major concern, he added. Without a nationwide, standardized identification system in Afghanistan, "knowing who people [actually] are is a difficult issue," according to Noble. 

That said, Gen. John Allen, head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has ordered the suspension of all ANSF training missions and limited the number of joint combat operations conducted by coalition and Afghan units. 

Afghan and coalition forces have also begun an aggressive counterintelligence campaign within the ANSF to combat the insider-attack threat. 

Afghan military leaders have planted spies within the country's military and police as part of that counterintelligence strategy. 

But the spike in attacks has also prompted a number of defense hawks in Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), to suggest accelerating the the American withdrawal ahead of the White House-mandated 2014 deadline. 

Noble pushed back on that suggestion, noting that despite the ongoing issues with insider attacks, the drawdown plan is on track to have all forces out of Afghanistan by the administration's deadline. 

"Here on the ground, we are going to keep doing what we do, we are just going to be more careful about it," he said. 

To date, 51 coalition soldiers have died at the hands of rogue recruits to the ANSF or Taliban infiltrators in the country's security forces. 

Most recently, Taliban fighters disguised as U.S. Army soldiers launched a deadly attack against Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan. 

Two U.S. Marines were killed and six American Harrier jets were destroyed during the Camp Bastion raid, which is the United Kingdom's largest military facility in that part of the country.