U.S. and NATO commanders confronted Afghan government officials Tuesday over the latest insider attack while also apologizing to them for civilian deaths from an allied airstrike.
NATO discussions with the central government of President Hamid Karzai played out after two incidents over the weekend in southwestern Afghanistan.
In the first on Saturday, a suicide bomber set off an explosive vest that killed six as U.S. troops and Afghan security forces were delivering office furniture to the headquarters in Kandahar’s Maruf district of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
One U.S. soldier and a State Department employe were killed in the blast, along with four Afghan intelligence agents, spokesmen from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said in initial reports that identified the attacker as a member of the Afghan intelligence service. Afghan officials later denied the first reports and said that the suicide bomber was likely a Taliban infiltrator wearing an NDS uniform.
The U.S. soldier has yet to be identified but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said the other American was Dario Lorenzetti, 42, of Fort Worth, Texas, a 1993 graduate of West Point. After service in the Army, he joined the State Department in 2005 and had been assigned to India, Saudi Arabia and later Afghanistan. Lorenzetti and his wife, Kirstin, had three daughters, the newspaper reported.
The second weekend incident in Helmand province involved an airstrike against a group of individuals believed to be planting improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs. Three children -- two boys and a girl -- who were nearby were also killed in the attack, ISAF spokesmen said.
In a statement, ISAF said that “ISAF forces may have accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians” as they completed an operation against suspected insurgents installing IEDs in Helmand Province on Sunday.
"The coalition extends its deep regret for this tragic incident. We also extend our sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who died, and we take full responsibility for what occurred,” the ISAF statement said.
An estimated 20,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the 11-year-old war, most of them by the Taliban, according to the United Nations and several independent agencies.
The civilian deaths and the “green on blue,” or insider, attacks have spread mistrust between ISAF and the Afghanistan government prompting several allies to press for a speedier withdrawal of NATO forces.
At least 118 U.S. and allied troops have been killed by Afghans in uniform since 2007 -- more than 55 this year.
President Obama and the Pentagon have outlined an “in together, out together” strategy calling for the pullout of all combat forces by December 2014, leaving behind a residual force of Special Operations troops and advisors that was expected to number about 15,000.
But several allies, including France, Australia and New Zealand, have declared that their troops will come out next year and British officials announced over the weekend that nearly half of their remaining 9,000 troops also will come out in 2013. Britain currently has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in Helmand province, but 500 have already been scheduled to leave by the end of this year.
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC on Monday that he can “detect a change in mood among the senior ISAF commanders, that it will now be possible to have a significant reduction in force numbers by the end of next year, after the next fighting season” in the summer of 2013.
“I would expect it to be significant,” Hammond said of the British withdrawal. Hammond indicated that more than 4,000 troops would be brought home.
The British public, much like the American public, has grown weary of a war that has cost 433 British lives and a total of about $27 billion since 2001.
About 105,000 allied troops remain in Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the ISAF commander who will be departing early next year to become NATO commander in Europe, was expected to deliver his recommendations to President Obama for an American troop withdrawal schedule before the end of this year.
But the withdrawal process was already in high gear. More than 200 American bases in Afghanistan, ranging from road checkpoints to Forward Operating Bases, have already been shut down and another 300 have been turned over to the Afghan security forces.
The U.S. Army also has been forming “Base Closure Assistance Teams” to plan for closure of most of about 400 U.S. bases that remain.
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the nation-building groups from the State Department and the military that focused on road building, school construction and other civic improvements, have also been dismantled or stopped most of their work in preparation for leaving.