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Insiders focus of US military chief's Afghan trip

20 august 2012, 14:56
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. ©REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. ©REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The top US military officer Martin Dempsey flew Sunday to Afghanistan to hold talks with senior commanders amid a spate of attacks by Afghan soldiers on their NATO counterparts, AFP reports.

Before landing at the sprawling US air base in Bagram, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that the rise in "insider attacks" would be a key focus of his meetings with US-led coalition and Afghan officers.

"As far as the insider threat, of course that's going to be a topic," Dempsey told AFP and Fox News.

Despite expanded efforts to screen recruits and preempt potential turncoat attacks, Dempsey said the number of incidents continues to increase.

"We have an eight-step vetting process that's been in place in earnest for about a year. But we haven't turned the corner on the trend," he said.

Shortly after he spoke, the International Security Assistance Force announced yet another "green-on-blue" attack, with an Afghan in police uniform shooting and killing a NATO soldier in southern Afghanistan. The attack brought the death toll to 40 this year from insider attacks.

But Dempsey said the insider violence would not alter plans for the bulk of NATO combat troops to withdraw by the end of 2014, as agreed at an alliance summit in Lisbon two years ago.

"To this point, we feel committed to the Lisbon objectives and the timetable you're familiar with," the general said.

The attacks threaten to fuel tensions between the NATO-led coalition and their Afghan partners, who are gradually taking over the lead for security as Western troops withdraw.

Dempsey suggested the Afghan government could be doing more to thwart the insider attacks, including speaking out publicly.

The general said he welcomed President Hamid Karzai's statement on Saturday on the problem, saying he hoped similar comments would be made by lower-ranking officials.

"What I would expect to see is that (statement) would be echoed down to the lowest levels," he said.

"We speak about it and we're taking measures to mitigate the risk. But I do think the more they can be as concerned about it as we are, the better off we'll all be."

On Saturday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Karzai to bolster cooperation with ISAF forces to contain the insider threat, according to the Pentagon.

Another top American general, General James Mattis, the head of US Central Command, who oversees troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan, was due to join Dempsey for talks on Monday in Kabul.

The two were scheduled to meet the commander of US and NATO troops, General John Allen, and other senior officers, officials said.

Dempsey also said he planned to hold talks with General Shir Mohammad Karimi, the head of Afghan forces.

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