KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - After months of military leaders' attempts to curb killings of U.S. and NATO troops by the Afghan forces serving beside them, Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, called an urgent meeting of his generals on Wednesday to address the escalating death toll.
In a room with more than 40 commanders, he underscored the need to stop the bloodletting that is sapping morale, said NATO officials, part of a new emphasis to protect U.S. and NATO forces after the killing of six Marine trainers nine days ago.
In a series of recent steps, the military decreed that U.S. and NATO service members should always carry a loaded magazine in their weapons, to save precious moments if attacked by Afghan forces. Another initiative, now a top priority, is a program dubbed "Guardian Angel" that calls for one or two soldiers to monitor the Afghans during every mission or meeting, officials say. The "angels," whose identities are not disclosed to the Afghans, must be prepared to fire on anyone who tries to kill a coalition service member.
The military has also analyzed these attacks, discovering that only a handful have clearly been due to Taliban activity -- a worrying development that suggests a malaise within the Afghan forces that raises the risk that personal rivalries and cultural clashes could complicate the NATO training program, which relies on trust and cooperation.
The efforts to stop "insider attacks" is an indication of how destabilizing the deaths of coalition troops at the hands of Afghan forces have become, and how much of a threat they pose to the transfer of control to the Afghans when NATO is set to leave in 2014.
But even the new emphasis on stopping the string of killings carries risks: Introducing barriers between NATO forces and the Afghans they are training runs the risk of worsening the tensions that have led to some attacks. "We have to have a balancing act between protecting our soldiers and not offending the Afghans we are partnering with," said Col. Thomas W. Collins, director of public affairs for the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Kabul.
NEW YORK TIMES