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Responding to 'insider' attacks, NATO cuts back joint operations with Afghan forces (+video)

Following a string of attacks by members of Afghan security forces against foreign troops, NATO announced that it is temporarily reducing support for Afghan forces.

By Jessica DonatiReuters, Rob TaylorReuters / September 18, 2012

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks to reporters after a meeting with Albania's President Bujar Nishani in Brussels Tuesday. A cutback in NATO operations with Afghan forces in response to a surge in insider attacks on foreign servicemen is a 'prudent and temporary' step, but NATO's strategy in Afghanistan is unchanged, Rasmussen said on Tuesday.

Eric Vidal/Reuters

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Kabul

NATO ordered a cutback on Tuesday in operations with Afghan forces in response to a surge of so-called insider attacks on foreign servicemen, but said the restriction was temporary and would not derail a 2014 handover of security to Afghans.

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The order indefinitely suspending most mentoring operations came from the second most senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General James Terry, and applies to all front-line missions involving units smaller than an 800-strong battalion.

But a senior NATO spokesman, U.S. Colonel Tom Collins, said the order was only a "temporary and prudent response" to current threats of insider attacks and a week of mounting anger across the Muslim world over a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad.

"It will apply only until the threat level returns to a tolerable level," Collins said, adding that separate training missions would be unaffected.

So-called enabling missions, such as NATO helicopter support for Afghan troops and medical evacuations by air, would also be unaffected, Collins told Reuters.

But even a limited cutback is a major turnaround for NATO's core mission of a strong training role for the 350,000 members of the Afghan security forces. They will now have to cope with reduced support from the 100,000-strong NATO-led force backing the Afghan government against Taliban insurgents.

The White House said President Barack Obama's timing for handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces and eventually withdrawing U.S. troops were unchanged. "It doesn't affect the timeline," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Nato says strategy unchanged

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen denied the step showed that Taliban insurgents were dictating events in Afghanistan and also said the NATO strategy of gradually handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces was unchanged.

"We have said all along that we will take every step necessary to minimise the risks to our troops and that's what we are doing," he told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

At least 51 members of the NATO force have been killed this year in insider attacks, where Afghan police or soldiers turned their weapons on their Western mentors. That's a spike of more than 40 percent on similar incidents for the whole of 2011.

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