US, NATO scale back joint operations with Afghan forces

Gen. John Allen, head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, announced the order to suspend most joint operations between coalition troops and elements of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) on Monday, according to recent news reports. 


"While some partnered operations are temporarily suspended, many continue — and regional commanders have the authority to approve more," Pentagon press secretary George Little told CNN regarding the order. 

Afghan military and police commanders will still meet with their American and NATO counterparts at the battalion level and above, according to reports. However, partnering with Afghan forces during combat operations will be at the discretion of coalition commanders in the field. 

The decision to limit cooperation with Afghan forces on the battlefield comes weeks after Allen ordered the suspension of all U.S.-led training operations for Afghan forces. In both instances, the moves were designed to address the growing problem of insider attacks against American and NATO troops. 

To date, 51 allied troops, a majority of them American, have died at the hands of their Afghan counterparts. These attacks, either by rogue recruits to the ANSF or Taliban infiltrators in the country's security forces against U.S. troops, have decimated morale among American forces. 

But on Tuesday, officials from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command attempted to downplay Allen's decision, calling recent reports on the pull back "not accurate." 

In an official statement by the command's headquarters in Kabul, ISAF official said the coalition "remains absolutely committed" training and advising the Afghan security forces. 

"The ISAF [security force assistance] model is focused at the battalion level and above, with exceptions approved by senior commanders," the statement said. "This has not changed." 

While certain joint operations with Afghan forces will be curtailed, ISAF officials said such action is not unusual, given the recent spike in violence against U.S. and NATO troops. 

"We've done this before in other high-tension periods, and it's worked well," according to command officials. "As conditions change, we will continue to adapt the force posture and force protection."

Last Saturday, two British soldiers were killed by an Afghan policeman in Helmand province. A day later, four American troops were killed in a similar attack in Zabul province, according to reports by The Associated Press.

The attacks have cast serious doubt over Washington's plan to have all American troops out of Afghanistan within the next two years. 

The Obama administration plans to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. However, that plan is predicated on Afghan military and police units being able to shoulder the load for the country's security operations once American forces leave.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the growing problem of Afghan military and police forces turning their guns on American soldiers has become a serious problem that could endanger the White House's endgame in Afghanistan. 

"You can't whitewash it. We can't convince ourselves that we just have to work harder to get through it. Something has to change," he said in an interview with the American Forces Press Service. 

The decision to suspend U.S., NATO and Afghan operations came a day before a member of the insurgent group Hezb-e-Islami set off a suicide bomb near Kabul, killing 12 people, according to recent reports. 

The bombing, which took place on a busy thoroughfare near the international airport in Kabul, was in supposed retaliation for an anti-Islamic online video that has already touched off violent protests against U.S. diplomats in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.  

--The story was updated at 1:13pm, to include comments from International Security Assistance Force