Insider attacks against US forces dropping, says Dunford

Instances of so-called "insider" attacks have declined dramatically compared to the spike in such attacks earlier this year, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. 

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The four-star general, who is slated to replace Gen. John Allen as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told lawmakers it remained unclear whether the drop-off can be tied to increased efforts by Afghan and coalition forces to curb the attacks. 

The Senate hearing was to confirm Dunford's nomination to his new Afghanistan post. He is currently the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and had commanded U.S. forces during the Iraq war. 

"It is too early to [determine] if it is a result of our successes" in counterintelligence and other U.S. and Afghan-led efforts to root out Taliban double agents from the ranks of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Dunford said. 

Beginning in early March, the number of insider attacks against U.S. forces swelled. To date, over 60 allied troops, a majority of them American, have died at the hands of their Afghan counterparts.

In September, a handful of Taliban gunmen disguised as U.S. Army soldiers launched an assault against Camp Bastion, the United Kingdom's largest military outpost in southern Afghanistan. Two U.S. Marines were killed and six Marine Corps Harrier fighter jets were destroyed in the brazen strike. 

An Army intelligence specialist and a CIA operative were killed in October, when an Afghan intelligence officer detonated a suicide bomb during a visit by American officials to an Afghan intelligence outpost in southern Afghanistan. 

As a result, Allen ordered the temporary suspension of all U.S. training missions of Afghan forces and all joint U.S.-Afghan combat operations. 

U.S. and local Afghan commanders also ramped up counterintelligence efforts within the ANSF, busily planting dozens of intelligence officers within the military and national police forces across the country to ferret out Taliban operatives or sympathizers.

Since Allen lifted the training and joint operations ban earlier this year the attacks have subsided, according to Dunford. 

However, the four-star general told committee members that U.S. forces must remain vigilant against the insider attack threat, up till the last American military unit leaves the country in 2014. 

"I don't think it [will] ever be solved," Dunford said of insider attacks, but added the problem "is at the top of my inbox" should he be confirmed to take over as the senior American commander in Afghanistan. 

Ongoing negotiations between Washington and Kabul on a postwar pact that will govern all U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal will also help tamp down on the attacks, according to Dunford. 

The bilateral security agreement being hashed out is "what will make the gains" by U.S. forces in Afghanistan stick, particularly those gains against the insider attack threat. 

Allen was not present at Thursday's Senate confirmation hearing to defend his actions against the insider attack threat, due to a Pentagon investigation into his involvement in the sex scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus. 

Allen had been scheduled to appear before the Senate panel for his confirmation as the new commander of U.S. forces in Europe. But the White House suspended his nomination on Monday, when reports surfaced of his involvement in the Petraeus affair. 

Petraeus stepped down as CIA chief last Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

An FBI-led investigation into Petraeus's personal emails uncovered the affair, as well as an intimate relationship between Allen and Petraeus associate Jill Kelley. 

The Pentagon's inspector general's office is now conducting its own inquiry into Allen's relationship with Kelley. 

Allen, who is married, could face disciplinary action or possible dishonorable discharge from the military under the Uniform Code of Military Justice if evidence points to an extramarital affair with Kelley. 

An affair between married service personnel is considered conduct unbecoming of an officer and a violation of UCMJ code. 

To that end, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday requested that Dunford's nomination to replace Allen be expedited through the confirmation process.