BEIJING (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday the U.S. is concerned about the impact insider attacks are having on its forces in Afghanistan.
But he insisted Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander there, is taking necessary steps to protect the force while still ensuring the U.S. will be able to hand over security to the Afghans and be able to withdraw by the end of 2014.
He said the attacks do not mean the Taliban is succeeding. Instead, he said the Taliban “are resorting to efforts that try to strike at our force, try to create chaos, but do not in any way result in their regaining territory that has been lost.”
Panetta spoke during a press conference in Beijing with China’s minister of national defense, Gen. Liang Guanglie.
NATO said Monday that it has scaled back operations with Afghan soldiers and policemen to lower the risk of insider attacks and reduce local tensions over an anti-Islam video that prompted protests in Afghanistan.
Early Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a minibus carrying foreign aviation workers to the airport in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing at least nine people. The Islamist militant group Hizb-i-Islami claimed responsibility for the dawn attack, saying it was revenge for the anti-Islam video.
Until now, U.S. and NATO troops routinely conducted operations with their Afghan counterparts. But under the new order, such operations will now require the approval of a regional commander.
So far this year, 51 international troops have been killed by Afghan forces or militants wearing their uniforms. The attacks have spiked in recent months, damaging the trust between the NATO and Afghan forces at a time when ongoing training and cooperation are critical in order for allied troops to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and turn control of security over to the Afghan forces.