KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan authorities have detained or removed hundreds of soldiers in an investigation into rising insider attacks against international service personnel who are their supposed partners in the fight against Taliban insurgents and other militants, officials said Wednesday.
The crackdown is the result of the Afghan Defense Ministry’s effort to re-evaluate soldiers to stem the attacks, which are complicating plans to train Afghan forces so that most foreign troops can withdraw from the country by the end of 2014. President Hamid Karzai’s government hopes Afghan forces can take responsibility for security nationwide by that time.
The U.S. military is taking precautionary measures, too, and recently stopped training about 1,000 members of the Afghan Local Police, a controversial network of village-defense units that is growing but remains a fraction of the country’s army and police force.
Karzai has expressed concern that without careful vetting, the program could end up arming local troublemakers, strongmen or criminals.
So far this year, 45 international service members, most of them Americans, have died at the hands of Afghan soldiers or policemen or insurgents wearing their uniforms. There were at least 12 such attacks in August alone, resulting in 15 deaths.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said that hundreds of Afghan National Army soldiers were removed from the service, but he declined to provide an exact number.
Lt. Gen. James Terry, commander of the U.S.-led coalition’s joint command in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday he had heard that 200 to 300 soldiers were removed in the re-vetting process but that he had not yet confirmed those numbers with the Afghan government.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi told reporters Wednesday that many soldiers were dismissed because they submitted incomplete or forged documents. He did not say whether any were connected to the Taliban or other insurgent groups but noted that some were suspected of having had contacts with militants.
An Afghan defense official said many were ousted for drug addictions, while others did not pass biometric tests meant to weed out recruits with questionable backgrounds. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly disclose details about the re-vetting process.
Terry said he also expected the Afghan government to move ahead soon with a counterintelligence initiative to identify insider threats within specific army and police units before lethal attacks are carried out.