KABUL, Afghanistan –- In the most sweeping response yet to “insider” shootings that have killed 51 Western troops this year, the NATO force has ordered a halt to joint patrols and other field operations by Afghan and foreign troops unless specifically approved by a regional commander, military officials said Tuesday.
The move is a dramatic blow to what had been the centerpiece of the Western exit strategy, which was for foreign troops to train Afghan police and soldiers in the field, so that Afghan forces would be ready to take the lead in fighting the Taliban by 2014.
Under the new directive, Afghan and NATO troops will continue to share joint bases, but contact between them will be limited to officers at the battalion level, mainly in the form of planning sessions and meetings, military officials said.
The order was given Sunday by Lt. Gen. James Terry, who heads the Joint Command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, on the same day that four American troops were shot and killed by Afghan police. The NATO force did not publicize the directive other than to provide copies in response to specific queries from news organizations.
Maj. Adam Wojack, an ISAF spokesman, acknowledged that the change would have a “huge” effect in the field. Until now, up to 80% of operations were “partnered” ones involving Western and Afghan troops.
He said the directive was prompted not only by insider shootings, which have accounted this year for about 15% of the NATO force’s fatalities, but also by an anti-Islam video that has triggered protests across the Muslim world, including a violent demonstration in Kabul on Monday.
“There’s a lot of tension out there,” he said, describing the directive as “a pretty major measure to mitigate risks.”
Exceptions to the directive would have to be approved by regional commanders, most of whom are two-star generals. Previously, lieutenants were authorized to give the go-ahead for patrols and other joint operations.
— Laura King