WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama declared Monday he is sticking to his war strategy of using U.S. troops to advise and mentor Afghan forces, even as a suddenly growing number of Americans are being gunned down by the very Afghans they are training to take on insurgents.
In just the past 10 days, Afghan forces have attacked their coalition partners seven times, killing nine Americans. For the year there have been 32 such incidents, killing 40, compared to 21 attacks killing 35 troops in all of 2011.
“We are deeply concerned about this, from top to bottom,” Obama told a White House news conference. But he said the best approach, with the fewest number of deaths in the long run, would be to stick to the plan for shifting security responsibilities to the Afghans.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said U.S. officials believe the current approach is solid, despite the surge in attacks.
“In the face of this problem, we remain strongly committed to the strategy we have put in place,” he said. “The strategy is working, and suggestions that it is fundamentally imperiled at this point are just wrong.”
As recently as last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called such attacks “sporadic” and a sign of Taliban desperation. But as the assaults continued through the week, he consulted with his top commander in Kabul and then on Saturday called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to express concern. Obama said Monday he would do the same.
Obama said he discussed the problem Monday with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was already in Kabul to talk to American and Afghan officials about how to halt the killings.
Dempsey said upon his arrival in Kabul that it was important for Karzai and other top government officials to publicly denounce the insider killings, according to a Pentagon account of his remarks.