The administration of US President Barack Obama will not swerve from plans to move into an advisory role in Afghanistan, US officials said on Monday, despite the killing of US advisers over the weekend that underscored the risks foreign soldiers will face as they rush to train Afghan forces.
“We’re not going to let the events of the past week, which are regrettable and unfortunate and tragic, influence the long horizon view that we’re taking,” US Department of Defense spokesman George Little told reporters at the Pentagon. “There is absolutely no reason to change course when we’re making the kind of progress we’re making.”
The Pentagon’s rhetorical offensive, which echoed remarks a day earlier by US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, appeared designed to tamp down speculation that the violence might prompt US military commanders to abandon a course that is supposed to gradually move US forces out of a combat role and put Afghan troops in the lead.
Concerns about the future of the US fight in Afghanistan have mounted in recent days, as protests over the burning of copies of the Koran on a US military base have raged and after two US officers were shot inside the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, prompting NATO to pull all advisers from ministries in Kabul.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for a Monday suicide attack that killed nine people in eastern Afghanistan, highlighting the challenges that remain for Washington and its allies as they push ahead with troop reductions that will remove most combat forces by the end of 2014.
Standing up an Afghan army capable of confronting militants — who are not giving up the fight — will be essential if the Western project in Afghanistan is to succeed. However, “green-on-blue” incidents such as the killing of the two US officers are emerging as a major obstacle to that goal.
According to the Pentagon, about 70 members of the NATO force were killed in 42 insider attacks from May 2007 through last month.
Such attacks have grown more common as the US has sent tens of thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan in recent years and as Afghans tire of the foreign military presence more than a decade after the Taliban government was toppled. It is a troubling trend for the US force as they prepare to move away from combat and shift into an advisory role.
One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the events of the past week would likely accelerate discussions among US, NATO and Afghan officials about possible changes to security procedures for training and advisory activities.
New protocols could be announced “in the relatively near future,” he said.
“This has been a subject of discussion for months,” the official said.
Captain John Kirby, a US military spokesman in Kabul, said US advisers would return to ministries in Kabul when General John Allen, who commands US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, deemed it acceptable. He gave no further details.