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U.S. military officials suspect the Afghan police recruit who killed two Special Forces trainers Friday with a weapon just handed to him was a Taliban plant and part of a growing threat from enemy infiltrators.
To counter the threat, the U.S. and NATO have begun a major review of the vetting process for Afghan recruits for the police and the army to include checking on the identities and loyalties of village elders and Afghan officials who are required to vouch for the trainees, the officials said.
Until recently, Pentagon and NATO officials had routinely dismissed Taliban claims to have infiltrated the ranks of the Afghan National Security Forces as idle boasts, but the recent spike in insider attacks has forced commanders to rethink policy.
"We think it’s about 10 percent," a Pentagon official said of the percentage of deadly insider attacks carried out by Taliban soldiers or sympathizers since January 2011.
Fifty insider attacks had occurred through Friday and killed 74 coalition troops, the vast majority of them Americans, which could mean that at least seven troops were killed by infiltrators.
Supposed Afghan allies killed six Marines in separate shootings Aug. 10. Marine leaders did not say whether the Afghan police officer and soldier responsible for those shootings were affiliated with the Taliban.
The Pentagon official wouldn’t speculate on how many other Taliban agents may have infiltrated the ranks of the ANSF, now numbering more than 300,000.
The latest insider attack in the Farah province, which borders Iran, was especially disturbing to the planners of the transition of the security lead to Afghan forces as U.S. and coalition combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014. Farah was considered by many as a relatively peaceful province.
Afghan and NATO officials identified the attacker as 60-year-old Mohammad Ismail, who was being recruited for the Afghan Local Police. The ALP is part of a new initiative funded by the U.S. to serve as a part-time militia force in areas where Western troops were less likely to patrol as they become fewer in number.
Ismail allegedly opened fire and killed the two Special Forces troops as soon as he was handed a weapon. Other Afghan and coalition troops then shot and killed Ismail.
In reviewing the vetting process for recruits, the U.S. and NATO will go back to the eight-step vetting process outlined at Pentagon briefings in May 2011 by top officials of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.
Jack Kem, deputy to the commander of the Training Mission, said the vetting process for recruits had been put in place, including identity card verifications, biometric scans, and a requirement for at least two letters from village elders or Afghan officials from the recruit’s district vouching for the trainee.
Kem cautioned that the system was not foolproof.
"No, I'm not confident 100 percent because I don't think any system's foolproof; so I'm not a 100 percent confident that we'll weed out everything, but I am confident that this system is the best system we can do now."
The Pentagon official said the review of the vetting process will determine whether standards have been maintained in the vetting process and focus on the vouchers from the village elders to determine whether those individuals actually exist and are trustworthy.
Despite the infiltration of the ranks, the official said the vast majority of insider attacks were the result of stress, emotional problems and "personal vendettas that they’ve decided to solve with a gun."
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated the age of the Afghan police recruit who allegedly shot the two Special Forces trainers. The recruit is 30 years old, not 60.