US generals meet amid Afghan-violence crisis
By GRAHAM BOWLEY
THE NEW YORK TIMES | August 21,2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for discussions on the progress of the war, including an intensified wave of insider attacks by Afghan forces on NATO service members, even as New Zealand became the latest coalition partner to announce an accelerated troop withdrawal.
The visit by Dempsey was characterized by NATO as one of his regular visits to Kabul. But it comes after a trust-eroding two-week stretch in which 10 U.S. service members have been killed by Afghan security forces, in violence designated as insider or green-on-blue attacks.
Dempsey met in Kabul with Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, as well as other senior coalition and Afghan officials, said Jamie Graybeal, a NATO spokesman. Dempsey received an update on the campaign, and the insider attacks were “certainly among the topics of discussion,” one NATO official said.
The discussions took place in private, and officials gave no more details.
“Our session today was an excellent dialogue about how to maintain momentum against the insurgents and ISAF’s continuing support to building Afghan capacity,” Allen said in a statement, referring to the International Security Assistance Force, the formal name of the NATO-led force.
“The campaign remains on track,” he added.
But the visit comes as the military has moved insider killings to the top of the agenda. These killings have heightened worries about how coalition troops can protect themselves while training members of the Afghan army and the police — a central part of America’s withdrawal strategy.
The Taliban has claimed that the infiltration of Afghan forces is one of its most successful tactics, but a NATO analysis has shown that only one in 10 of such attacks can be directly tied to the insurgents, while the remainder of such killings stem from personal disputes or cultural clashes.
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke with President Hamid Karzai by phone to urge him to find new ways to stop the attacks — “including augmented counterintelligence measures, even more rigorous vetting of Afghan recruits, and stepped up engagement with village elders, who often play a key role by vouching for Afghan security personnel,” George Little, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, New Zealand announced Monday that it would probably withdraw its small troop contingent from Afghanistan months ahead of schedule, aiming for early 2013 rather than October of that year.
The country has about 140 soldiers in Afghanistan, mainly in a reconstruction role in Bamian province — a limited role that helped ease public wariness in New Zealand about taking part in the war. Bamian is a rugged and poor province in central Afghanistan, and until recently it had been one of the most peaceful in the country.
But Taliban violence has sharply increased there this year, and this month five New Zealand soldiers were killed, including three in a roadside bombing on Sunday.
In his announcement on speeding up troop withdrawal, Prime Minister John Key insisted that the deaths had not played into the decision.
But the violence in Bamian has been a shocking measure of how insurgent activity has begun to penetrate even areas that until recently were considered relatively stable.
Among those caught in the bombing Sunday was a 26-year-old medic who was one of the country’s first female soldiers to be killed in the Afghan war.
She and two colleagues were taking a member of their patrol to a doctor at a forward operating base when their convoy was attacked early Sunday, New Zealand officials said; the deaths brought the number of New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2003 to 10.
Earlier this month, two soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in a gunfight, also in Bamian.
A Western official said New Zealand’s decision to withdraw earlier than initially planned was made before the attacks this month, and was related to the transfer of full authority in Bamian from NATO to the Afghan government, a move most likely to take place this year.
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In Bamian, the New Zealand base is a local landmark, with a model Kiwi atop its roof. While the New Zealand soldiers have concentrated on providing security for reconstruction, as well as police training, the country’s special operations forces have also been active in Afghanistan, including mentoring crisis response units in Kabul. Two members of its special operations forces were killed last year during attacks on the British Council in Kabul and in Wardak province.
The recent violence in Bamian, a rugged region of central Afghanistan, has mainly taken place in the northeast corner of the province, close to the border with neighboring Baghlan province, where the insurgency is stronger.
The security forces have been trying to prevent incursions from Baghlan, while insurgents have also spilled over the border as they come under pressure from Afghan security forces conducting operations in Baghlan, Afghan officials said.
“If the New Zealand troops leave Bamian province, then we would require more police forces and more equipment to fight the insurgency,” said Juma Geldi Yardam, the province’s police chief.
New Zealand now follows France, a much bigger coalition partner, which in January announced it was accelerating its troop withdrawal.
France’s redeployment has already begun, with 2,000 troops scheduled to move out by December, and a final 800 troops by the middle of next year, according to NATO.