Insider attacks cloud U.S. transition to Afghan control

KHOST, Afghanistan — As American forces bring the 12-year war in Afghanistan to a close, the threat of "insider attacks" by Afghan forces against U.S. troops continues to cloud local security transition efforts here. 

American military advisers here have been on high alert since two senior Army officers and a U.S. law enforcement official were killed by an Afghan army soldier in Paktika province in June. 

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On Tuesday, an Afghan soldier opened fire on American and NATO forces at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, killing one coalition soldier and wounding four, according to recent reports. 

Since the June attack in Paktika, American military advisers here have been banned from going into Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) compounds unless it's for "direct mission planning," U.S. officers told The Hill. 

When American troops visit the ANSF compounds that typically ring the American combat outposts in Khost and elsewhere in the country, they must be armed, wearing full body armor and accompanied by a so-called "guardian angels" to provide security, according to U.S. advisers at Combat Outpost Sabari and Matun Hill. 

When ANSF commanders and officers come to visit U.S. combat outposts, they are not allowed to carry weapons onto base, according to American military advisers here. 

Due to those measures, there has not been an insider attack against U.S. forces in Khost province since last month's shootings in Paktika. 

The threat of insider attacks against U.S. forces has been an ongoing one for the duration of the more than decade-long war here. 

Despite the best efforts by American and NATO commanders to stem the rise in attacks by Afghan troops against coalition forces, there is no possible way to completely prevent the attacks from happening, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey 

"We can dramatically lower the numbers [of attacks] ... but we can't prevent it," Dempsey said during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington late last year. 

Such attacks hit a deadly peak in later 2012, with more than 60 U.S. and coalition forces dying at the hands of their Afghan counterparts.  

But U.S. measures to protect against insider attacks, even at this late stage of the war, are not carried out in "an aggressive manner," Lt. Col. Scott Kirkpatrick, commander of 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, said. 

"You have to be culturally sensitive while you are mitigating a threat" like possible insider attacks, Kirkpatrick said during an interview at Forward Operating Base Salerno.  

U.S. guardian angels are not standing near American officers "with their finger on the selector switch" of their weapons during meetings with the ANSF, Kirkpatrick explained. 

That said, the battalion commander was adamant those protective measures are not getting in the way of cooperation between U.S. and Afghan forces. 

The increased protection taken by U.S. military advisers at combat outposts in eastern Afghanistan "does not offend them," he said, referring to ANSF commanders and troops. 

"Even with that natural friction still comes mission accomplishment," he said. 

But by controlling contact with ANSF and U.S. advisers and increasing security measures "you are [simply] mitigating risk," he said regarding U.S. efforts to protect against insider attacks. 

Balancing cultural sensitivity and risk mitigation in the final days of the Afghan war has become crucial as U.S. forces complete the transition of all security operations for the country to the ANSF. 

U.S. and coalition commanders officially handed over control of all combat operations in the country to the ANSF last month, in preparation for the U.S. drawdown from the country by the end of 2014.