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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.

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The order, which appeared to take several coalition members including Britain and Australia by surprise, was issued after weekend attacks by Afghan police in which six foreign soldiers were killed in the south, where the Taliban draws most support.

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Australian troops, based in the southern province of Uruzgan, were seeking urgent clarification on how the change would be applied. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the impact on British operations would be minimal.

NATO commanders said smaller joint operations could still be approved, but on a case-by-case basis in which junior commanders would have to set out measures to reduce the risk of attack by rogue Afghan soldiers or police.

The attacks have already prompted several coalition members, including France, to speed up or review plans to withdraw troops ahead of the 2014 timetable for most combat forces, as agreed by the Afghan government's Western backers.

"Negative impact"

Afghan commanders were not told of the order until Tuesday, in a hurried meeting with NATO counterparts. That underscored a scramble among coalition countries to contain the damage caused by insider attacks both on front-line troop morale and on fading support at home for the 11-year war.

The order to curtail joint operations would hobble support from NATO for Afghan military operations at a time when the Taliban were stepping up attacks, Afzal Aman, head of operations for the Afghan defence department, told Reuters.

On Friday, insurgents raided a major foreign force base, destroying more than $200 million worth of Harrier fighter jets.

"It will have a negative impact on our operations. Right now, foreign forces help us in air support, carrying our personnel, wounded and dead out of the battlefields, in logistics and training," Aman said.

The order still allows major joint operations above battalion size to take place, but these are less frequent than smaller platoon and squad-size missions mounted against small insurgent groups.

The scaling back of cooperation could also complicate tense negotiations between Washington and Kabul on a deal to keep some special forces and trainers in the country after 2014.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in KABUL, Peter Griffiths and Maria Golovnina in LONDON, David Alexander in BEIJING, Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON and Adrian Croft in BRUSSELS; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Robert Birsel, Sebastian Moffett and Pravin Char)

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