BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A surge in attacks against NATO-led foreign troops by rogue members of the Afghan security forces threatens to erode trust between the international force and Afghans, but will not cause NATO allies to pull out early, the alliance’s chief said.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance’s plans to gradually hand over security to Afghan forces and pull out most troops by end-2014 would not be disrupted by the attacks.
“These insider attacks are a matter of strong concern. They threaten to undermine trust and confidence between foreign soldiers and the Afghan security forces ... Our commanders in the field have taken and will take all steps necessary to prevent such attacks,” he told Reuters in an interview.
The killings “will not derail our plans for transition ... Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain the same,” he said.
At least 45 members of the NATO-led force have been killed by rogue Afghans in uniform this year, including 15 in August alone. That compares with 35 killed in such attacks in all of 2011.
Last week, three Australian soldiers were killed by an Afghan army sergeant who turned his weapon on them during a training exercise.
Rasmussen said he did not fear that the so-called “green on blue” attacks would lead to more members of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan pulling out early.
New French President Francois Hollande has accelerated France’s withdrawal of its roughly 3,400 troops in Afghanistan to the end of this year, and New Zealand has said it is likely to speed up the withdrawal of its soldiers from Afghanistan.
Rasmussen said NATO had strengthened vetting procedures to try to exclude suspect Afghan recruits and was ready to take further steps if necessary, though he gave no details.
NATO forces have stepped up implementation of precautions such as criminal record checks and character assurances from local elders for Afghan recruits, and is being more vigilant, especially towards Afghan soldiers and police just back from leave, a NATO official said.
Afghanistan’s government said last month it would re-examine the files of 350,000 soldiers and police to help curb rogue shootings of NATO personnel.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan said on Sunday they had suspended training new recruits to the Afghan Local Police, a militia separate from the national police, following the spike in insider attacks.
Given the scarce evidence of progress towards a political solution to the 11-year Afghan conflict, Rasmussen said he did not know whether the Taliban leadership was sincerely interested in trying to find one.
But he said efforts to reach such a solution should still be given a chance provided the process was Afghan-led and that people involved abided by the Afghan constitution, cut ties with terrorist groups and denounced violence.
The Taliban says it has no intention of negotiating with NATO troops, especially as they are leaving anyway.
Separately, Rasmussen said NATO had no plan to intervene militarily in Syria, though it was monitoring the situation closely because Syria’s neighbor Turkey - which is struggling to cope with a huge influx of refugees - is a NATO member.
“Of course we stand ready to take all necessary steps to protect and defend Turkey as an ally within NATO,” he said.
Editing by Peter Graff