By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2012 – The focus on insider attacks belies the fact that the Taliban are under severe pressure and have been forced to shift tactics, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters today.
“We’ve said for a very long time, perhaps for as long as a year or more, that the pressure that we’re bringing to bear on the Taliban is forcing them to look to new tactics,” Little said. “Again, I can’t say that these [insider attack] incidents originate with the Taliban. Some of them may, some of them may not.”
But the Taliban are having to shift their approach, because they are under severe strain, Little said. “I know that the insider attack threat is on the public radar screen, and I understand why,” he added. “That being said, these incidents don’t tell the entire story of what’s going on in Afghanistan.”
Little said the International Security Assistance Force has maintained an “intense” focus on rooting out the Taliban, and that the effort will continue.
“They will not have safe harbor as long as American forces are in Afghanistan,” he said. “And they are lashing out in certain ways. They are adapting, and we’re prepared for whatever they may bring to the fight.”
The press secretary noted the Taliban are “opportunistic” in looking for ways to infiltrate Afghan forces and to attack coalition forces, but “we’re prepared to address their challenges.”
Little said he believes the insider attacks have not significantly harmed U.S troop morale.
“It is my strong belief, and I think this is echoed by my colleagues in Afghanistan, that troop morale is high,” he said. “We’re working [more] closely [than ever] with our Afghan partners. And when [they] see the transfer of skills and capabilities to the Afghan forces to go after the enemy and protect the country, that brings a sense of reward to our forces and to our partners.”
Another Pentagon Spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Steven Warren, also told reporters the partnership with Afghan forces hasn’t stopped, including in areas that have seen insider attacks.
“Even in locations where the insider attacks have occurred, we see the very next day, those American soldiers are right back at work, working with and training with, their Afghan partners,” he said. “I think that says a lot.”
Little reiterated the Defense Department’s belief that the “vast majority” of the insider attacks stem from “disgruntled individuals and are not part of an orchestrated campaign by the Taliban.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Little said, called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to share his concerns about the recent insider attacks.
“The secretary was grateful that President Karzai had condemned the so-called ‘green-on-blue’ attacks,” he said. “This was a discussion aimed at sharing concerns over this issue and talking about ways to work even more closely together to address this problem.”
Little said both leaders are very deeply disturbed by these incidents, and that Karzai has reinforced the Afghan government’s commitment to support efforts to try to prevent the attacks in the future.
“Yes, they have occurred; they remain a challenge,” he said. “They are not the sole metric, however, by which to judge our progress in Afghanistan. And I think that’s very important for all of us to take note of.”
American and Afghan forces, he said, are working very hard with their ISAF partners to carry out a “very effective” transition process.
“We have 315,000 Afghan national security force personnel who are working with us, and with our ISAF partners, to prosecute the war effort,” Little said. “We are not shying away from engaging with our Afghan partners.”
“And our Afghan partners are doing a tremendous job as well,” he noted. “American forces see that, and they draw inspiration from it because that, in large measure, is a reflection of the good work they’re doing to support our partners in the country.”
Little also said while partnership is at an “all-time high,” the safety of U.S. troops is critically important. “The safety of our troops is paramount, and we’re going to continue to make that our top priority,” he said.
From Jan. 1 to Aug. 19, 32 insider attacks this year have resulted in 22 deaths, a senior military official said. In all, 40 coalition personnel had been killed and 69 others have been wounded in those attacks. Over the same period in 2011, the official added, 16 attacks resulted in 28 deaths and 43 wounded.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met today in the Afghan capital of Kabul with Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, Afghanistan’s defense chief, and said the Afghans are as concerned as coalition officials about the attacks.
“In the past, it’s been us pushing on them to make sure they do more,” Dempsey told reporters after the meeting. “This time, without prompting when I met General Karimi, he started with a conversation about insider attacks – and, importantly, insider attacks not just against us, but insider attacks against the Afghans, too.”
(Jim Garamone of American Forces Press Service contributed to this report.)