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Shift seen in U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan

The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan -- NATO's decision to restrict operations with small Afghan forces to mitigate the threat of insider attacks means fewer boots on patrols and a shift in how the U.S.-led coalition will fight the war in Afghanistan.

It's unclear whether the coalition's exit strategy can succeed with less partnering with Afghan policemen and soldiers, who are slated to take over for foreign combat troops by the end of 2014, just 27 months from now. What is clear is that rather than coalition and Afghan forces fighting the Taliban "shoulder to shoulder," it is looking more and more like they're standing at arm's length.

Earlier this year, the U.S. military stopped training about 1,000 members of the Afghan Local Police, a network of village-defense units.

U.S. commanders have assigned some troops to be "guardian angels" who watch over their comrades in interactions with Afghan forces and even as they sleep. U.S. officials also recently ordered American troops to carry loaded weapons at all times in Afghanistan, even when they are on their bases.

Until now, coalition troops routinely conducted operations such as patrolling or manning outposts with small units of their Afghan counterparts.

Under the new rules issued on Sunday, such operations with small-sized units are considered no longer routine and require the approval of the regional commander.

NATO's decision reflected escalating worries about the insider attacks, coupled with the widespread tensions over an anti-Islam video that has prompted protests around the world, including Afghanistan.

Early Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a minibus carrying foreign aviation workers to the airport in Kabul, killing at least 12 people including nine foreigners -- eight South Africans, a Kyrgyzstani and three Afghans.

But the underlying reason for the new directive that curbs contact between Afghan and international forces is the spike in insider attacks. So far this year, 51 international service members have died at the hands of Afghan forces or militants wearing their uniforms.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said plans for a gradual transition to Afghan responsibility for security by end of 2014 would continue despite the new restrictions, which he described as "prudent and temporary."

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