Afghanistan to re-screen police, soldiers to curb rogue attacks

Govt accused "foreign spies" of instigating attacks on NATO personnel.


Reuters August 22, 2012

KABUL: Afghanistan's government said on Wednesday it would re-examine the files of 350,000 soldiers and police to help curb rogue shootings of Nato personnel, but accused "foreign spies" of instigating the attacks that have angered major allies.

A day after US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey arrived in Kabul to discuss shootings that have killed 40 foreigners this year, President Hamid Karzai held a special meeting with top security advisers at his garden palace.

"Reports presented by the security officials in this meeting blamed the infiltration by foreign spy agencies into Afghan security force ranks as responsible for the rise in the individual shootings," Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said.

In a briefing for foreign reporters, Faizi said the spy agencies included those from "neighbouring countries", an allusion to Pakistan and Iran.

The two are frequently held responsible by Afghan officials for a range of security and economic problems as the war with Taliban insurgents drags into its 11th year.

President Barack Obama said this week the United States was watching the spate of "insider" attacks with "deep concern" after the death of nine American soldiers in 12 days, including two members of special forces killed by an elderly Afghan militia recruit in Western Farah province.

The killings, many of which have been claimed by the Taliban as evidence of insurgent reach and infiltration, have eroded trust between the Nato-Afghan allies and are complicating plans for transition to Afghan security within two years.

Nato commanders have played down the threat of infiltration, blaming most of the shootings on stress or personal differences between Afghans and their Western advisers that ended at the point of a gun, a frequent occurrence in Afghanistan.

Taliban largely uninvolved

While the attacks have been responsible for around 13 percent of foreign casualties this year, and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has asserted that insurgents have successfully infiltrated security forces, Nato says fewer than one in 10 incidents have shown evidence of Taliban involvement.

Faizi said the majority arose from infiltration driven by foreign intelligence services "fearful of the empowerment of Afghan security agencies". He said their agenda had benefited from residual anger among ordinary Afghans over foreign indiscretions like the burning of Korans and urinating on dead insurgents by US troops had made their job easier.

Evidence included papers, letters and phone records, he said.

Still, Karzai's National Security Committee had agreed to improve the vetting of army and police recruits by requiring stronger guarantors, a more stringent test questionnaire and biometric data on all would-be and existing personnel.

More undercover intelligence officers would be recruited and placed in Afghan security forces to keep an eye on soldiers and police, while security force members with families in neighbouring countries would be heavily scrutinised for possible relations or exposure to cross-border insurgents.

"They will study every single case of every individual who is either in the Afghan army or the Afghan police who has family either in Iran or in Pakistan," Faizi said.

Many of the measures are already being introduced and it was unclear how they could be tightened further by an Afghan government keen to avoid more early pullouts by foreign coalition forces, as France is doing.

Karzai met on Wednesday with Nato's top commander in the country, General John Allen, to brief him on the changes and reassure him they would help forestall more attacks.

Faizi denied the measures were due to US pressure and criticism that Afghan security forces are not paying enough attention to screening and preventing Taliban infiltration.

"It is a mutual responsibility. We are not worried by the pressure from the international community," he said.

There have been 32 "insider" attacks so far this year involving 36 gunmen that have led to 40 coalition deaths, just over half of them Americans.

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