U.S.-Afghan partnering resumes

Posted: September 28, 2012

WASHINGTON - Most U.S. and coalition combat units in Afghanistan have returned to their practice of partnering with Afghan forces, nearly two weeks after the top U.S. commander put restrictions on such arrangements, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.

Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, Panetta provided no statistics on the change or any details on why partnering has returned to normal in most cases.

The limitations had been set by Gen. John Allen on Sept. 16 after a string of deadly insider attacks against coalition forces, and amid concern about Afghan backlash over an anti-Islam video.

As of Thursday, well more than half the operations included both coalition and Afghan forces, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to release details. That compares with 90 percent of operations that included NATO and Afghan troops before the new restrictions that were implemented nearly two weeks ago.

U.S. officials have said that when they first began to use the new approval process, U.S.-Afghan joint operations fell off significantly, but the approval process is beginning to work more smoothly.

A spike in insider attacks - where Afghan forces or insurgents wearing their uniforms turned their guns on their NATO counterparts - led commanders to limit when certain coalition and Afghan troops could patrol or work together.

Under the new directive, partnered operations such as patrols or the manning of outposts with small units now must be approved by the senior regional commander. Since Allen issued the directive, there has been one non-fatal insider attack, on Sept. 17. There have been 51 deaths attributed to insider attacks this year.

"The Taliban is clearly trying to split us apart, but it won't work," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the news conference with Panetta.

Dempsey, who revealed he had just made a trip to Afghanistan to evaluate the situation, said he returned "with a renewed sense that we can lower the risk of the insider threat."

His stealthy trip, however, underscored how worried U.S. officials were that the insider attacks could erode trust between the coalition and Afghan forces and possibly derail the war strategy.

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