NATO's deputy commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday the coalition can't afford to walk away from Afghan partnerships in seeking to protect themselves from the rash of insider attacks by Afghans in uniform that have killed at least 52 U.S. and coalition forces this year.
"The key thing is that we must maintain the confidence of our partners and keep them with us" despite the increasing risk in working closely with the Afghan National Security Forces, said British Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force.
"And if we suddenly, precipitously pull back in the face of this risk when the campaign itself is delivering so much success, we would unravel the efforts that we've worked so hard to deliver," Bradshaw said in a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon.
Bradshaw said it was "completely inaccurate" to suggest that the so-called "green-on-blue" killings had driven a wedge between allied and Afghan troops.
The deputy commander explained that "our profile is largely back to normal" in terms of partnering after coalition troops pulled back from low-level training opportunities with Afghan units.
U.S. and coalition troops have designated "guardian angels" with weapons at the ready to maintain constant vigil while in contact with ANSF, and even been told to pick out defensible positions on forward bases to retreat to in case the Afghans turn on them.
The troops have to balance security against close cooperation to maintain the effectiveness of the partnership and avoid alienating the Afghans, Bradshaw said.
"It's just the way that people go about their business. You know, whoever's got the responsibility to keep an eye on their mates while they're taking exercise or playing sport or relaxing in between operations, whoever has that task just tactfully stays on one side. Clearly they have a weapon and they're ready to use it if necessary, but they're not constantly in people's faces," Bradshaw said.
"It's done in a tactful and sensible manner. And it's done in a manner to, you know, minimize any sense of discomfort from anybody else," Bradshaw said.
In answering questions, Bradshaw was challenged on his initial claim that insider attacks had caused only four percent of allied casualties this year, when earlier statements from ISAF put the figure at about 20 percent. Bradshaw later said that the 4 percent figure applied to those killed and wounded, and the 20 percent figure was more accurate for those killed.
Bradshaw also stressed the continuing high morale of allied troops in the face of insider attacks, a day after NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the incidents were eroding the "trust and confidence" of coalition forces in their Afghan partners.
Rasmussen, in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, was also quoted as saying that the insider attacks might lead the allies to speed up troop withdrawals under the plan to turn full responsibilities for security over to the Afghans at the end of 2014.
"If the security situation allows, I would not exclude the possiblity that in certain areas you could accelerate the (withdrawal) process," Rasmussen said in the interview.
NATO and the Defense Department later disputed the report and said Rasmussen's remarks were taken out of context.
The Guardian report "implied a link between the pace of redeployment and insider attacks, which the Secretary General never made," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in a statement.