Kabul, Afghanistan - The training of Afghan Local Police and special operations forces has been put on hold while their American trainers conduct stricter vetting to try to root out any infiltrators or new recruits who could pose risks to the coalition troops working with them, American officials say.
The move does not affect the vast majority of Afghan forces — more than 350,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and Afghan National Police members — who are still being trained and are still working in the field with American and NATO counterparts, military officials said. The action was first reported online by The Washington Post.
"The training is definitely still going on for the regular A.N.A. and A.N.P.," said Maj. Steve Neta of the Canadian Air Force, a spokesman for the NATO training mission in Afghanistan. At any given time, there are 25,000 Afghan soldiers and more than 4,000 Afghan national policemen in training, and that is continuing, he said.
But a rash of recent attacks by Afghan forces on American and NATO troops has led American Special Operations commanders in Afghanistan to put a hold on the training of those Afghan units overseen by American Special Operations forces: Afghan Local Police and special forces units, which, combined, number over 20,000, or roughly seven percent of all Afghan forces.
"The training of our partner forces has been paused while we go through this revetting," said a spokesman for American Special Operations. The spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the suspension affects only Afghan Local Police and Afghan special operations and commando forces.
He said the revetting of the Afghan Special Operations had started on Aug. 22 and had already been completed. Training of recruits to these forces had resumed after a few days, he said.
But the training of about 1,000 new Afghan Local Police recruits was still on hold, for at least a month, as commanders go back to scrutinize the vetting procedures for the existing force of more than 16,000.
"It may take a month or two," the spokesman said, adding that "this has been done as a precautionary measure. We are still very confident in our vetting procedure."
The Afghan Local Police program is a relatively new program that has sent American Special Operations forces into more rural areas to train Afghan recruits who are not part of the main Afghan army or police. These police forces, while comparatively small in number, are regarded as an important stopgap to secure remote corners of Afghanistan as international troops withdraw.
A spokesman for the American military command in Kabul, Col. Thomas Collins, said the move "should not in any way be perceived as we're backing away from our Afghan partners. We're not."
He added: "We're simply opening up a little space that will allow us and the Afghans to make sure the correct vetting procedures are being followed."
Colonel Collins also emphasized that the move does not affect the pace of operations of Afghan Local Police and Afghan special forces units that have already completed their training. Those missions — involving more than 20,000 Afghan service members — will continue unaffected even as the backgrounds of these Afghan forces receive more scrutiny, he said.
"We have suspended training of the new recruits and we are revetting current members," Colonel Collins said. "But we are not suspending operations involving those who have completed training and are currently in the field."
American Special Operations forces have suffered devastating attacks in recent weeks by Afghans close to them.
On Aug. 17, two American Special Forces members were killed by a new Afghan Local Police recruit they were training at a small outpost in Farah Province in western Afghanistan. The attacker turned his gun on the Americans after they had finished a training session.
Another American Special Forces service member was wounded and an Afghan police recruit was killed in the shooting. The Americans belonged to United States Forces-Afghanistan, a command separate from the main NATO force.
A week earlier, three Marine Special Operations troops meeting with Afghan local police were killed by an Afghan wearing a national police uniform in Sangin, a district in northeastern Helmand Province.
Still, the American Special Operations spokesman said that these so-called insider attacks are not seen "as a systemic problem with the" Afghan Local Police.
In all, at least 15 American or other international coalition troops have been killed in just the past month either by Afghan forces or other Afghans who were working closely with them. Over the year, at least 45 Western military troops, mostly Americans, most have been killed in such attacks, NATO officials say.
Colonel Collins said the Afghan military was implementing a number of new measures to counter these attacks, including establishing an anonymous reporting system for soldiers to report suspicious activity; increasing the presence of Afghan counterintelligence teams among Afghan troops; banning the sale of uniforms to help stop infiltrators posing as soldiers; and revetting soldiers when they return home from leave.
He said coalition commanders were working with the Afghans, including providing help to train the Afghan counterintelligence agents.
"We're establishing a joint investigation commission when insider threats occur and we're also establishing joint screening criteria and procedures," he said.