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NATO measures to keep Taliban out of Afghan forces

By Slobodan Lekic
Associated Press / March 14, 2012
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BRUSSELS—NATO's governing body has approved measures to reduce the risk of attacks on alliance soldiers by Afghan security forces, officials said Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the North Atlantic Council adopted the package late Tuesday.

The measures include embedding counterintelligence officers in the Afghan army and its training schools to detect people behaving suspiciously, increasing the number of Afghan intelligence officers, and making sure Afghan troops are paid regularly and get regular leave. Random drug testing will also be implemented, Lungescu said.

"The plan will strengthen security measures, revise and improve the vetting, screening and monitoring of Afghan forces and crucially improve cultural awareness on both sides ... to bridge the gap that can tragically lead to violence," Lungescu said.

Dozens of NATO soldiers have been killed in recent years in attacks by Afghan troops and policemen, including two senior U.S. military officers gunned down in their Interior Ministry office last month.

The attacks have raised fears of increased Taliban infiltration of the expanding Afghan forces as NATO moves toward a 2014 goal of ending its combat role and withdrawing most of its ground forces. Afghan army and police are due to grow from about 300,000 to more than 350,000 in the meantime.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the United States and its NATO allies were committed to shifting to a support role in Afghanistan in 2013. Speaking at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama called this an important step toward turning security control over to the Afghans by the end of 2014.

NATO's top civilian representative in Kabul, meanwhile, said the 2014 timetable would not be affected by a string of incidents involving NATO troops -- including a video purporting to show four U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses, the burning of Muslim holy books on a military base last month and the massacre of 16 villagers Sunday, allegedly by a U.S. soldier.

Critics say the long war has contributed to growing dissatisfaction among Afghans, who largely welcomed the ouster of the discredited Taliban regime in 2001 but now increasingly view the NATO-led force as an army of occupation.

"The war has gone on for more than 10 years, and while the Taliban have always opposed U.S. and NATO troops, supporters of President Hamid Karzai's regime now distrust them as well," the Texas-based intelligence analysis firm Stratfor said.

Simon Gaas, the NATO civilian representative, said via video link from Kabul that the pullout is occurring as quickly as possible without endangering the mission.

"If we push too fast we risk reversals," he said, "and any loss of confidence would be very hard to recover from."

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Slobodan Lekic can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich

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