KABUL -- The U.S. military has halted the training of some Afghan forces while it digs deeper into their background, following a surge of attacks by soldiers and police on their international partners, officials said Sunday.
The move puts only about 1,000 Afghan trainees in limbo, a fraction of the country's security forces. But it shows how these attacks have the potential to derail the U.S.-Afghan handover of security so essential to the international drawdown strategy.
The international coalition ultimately hopes to recheck the backgrounds of the entire 350,000-strong Afghan army and police, officials say.
The United States and its allies are pushing to have Afghan forces take over security for the country by the end of 2014. This effort has been imperiled by the spike in insider attacks that have killed 45 international service members this year; most were Americans, including Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr., 21, of Oceanside. There were at least 12 such attacks in August alone, resulting in 15 deaths. Coalition authorities have said about 25 percent of this year's insider attacks had confirmed or suspected links to the Taliban.
The 1,000 put into limbo by the training freeze are part of a 16,000-strong unit dubbed the Afghan Local Police. They are actually much more of a government-backed militia, technically under the authority of the national police but operating independently. They are the only force that the United States alone is in charge of training.
"With this increased interest in the insider threat, everybody started looking at it and saying: 'What can we do to make sure that all of our vetting processes are in place?' We're going through and looking at everything," said Lt. Col. Todd Harrell, a spokesman in Afghanistan for the U.S. special operations forces.
Harrell also disclosed for the first time on Sunday that the Americans suspended operations by the Afghan special forces last month to revet those soldiers for any potential ties to insurgents or any other indications that they might turn on their allies. He said the suspension lasted less than two weeks and that the forces have since resumed operations.
He said he was not aware of any Afghan troops who were suspended or flagged for monitoring in that round of revetting. The vast majority of insider attacks have been carried out by regular Afghan army and police, rather than by the Afghan Local Police or special forces.