By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Most Afghan and NATO troops are now conducting normal partnered operations, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced during a news conference here today.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, had ordered that all combined operations below the battalion level be approved by regional commanders following attacks by Afghan soldiers and police that have killed 51 members of the coalition this year.
However, Afghan and coalition troops are now back to conducting partnered operations as before, Panetta told Pentagon reporters. The military believes some of the insider attacks were perhaps triggered by Muslim anger over an American-made internet video that defamed the Prophet Muhammad.
“I can now report to you that most ISAF units have returned to their normal partnered operations at all levels,” said Panetta, who was accompanied by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dempsey, just back from a visit to Afghanistan, said partnering efforts are back to the level they were before the difficulties. Around 90 percent of all operations in the country are partnered.
Even with the insider attacks, Panetta said the coalition and Afghan efforts are paying off. He said the Taliban were in control of large swaths of Afghanistan and were poised to take more when the coalition surge into the country began in December 2009.
Last week, the secretary announced the end of the surge, with the departure of the last of the 33,000 troops who were ordered deployed. There are now 68,000 American service members in Afghanistan.
“[The surge] accomplished the primary objectives of reversing the Taliban’s momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces,” Panetta said.
This will continue, said Dempsey, noting coalition troops will continue to partner with Afghan soldiers and police. The Taliban has failed to recover momentum or any territory. “Our Afghan partners are working with us to shut down the threat of insider attacks,” the chairman said. “As one Afghan army commander told me, insider attacks are an affront to their honor, at odds with their culture and their faith.”
Taliban insurgents are actively trying to infiltrate Afghan army and police formations, Dempsey said. The insurgent group is also trying to turn Afghan soldiers and police against their coalition allies.
Dempsey said coalition forces are adapting to the Taliban’s change in tactics.
“That’s what professional militaries do,” he said. “And we are doing it in a way that ensures we continue to be able to partner.”
The Taliban wants to break the coalition, the general said, but the coalition’s resolve to stand with Afghan formations is strong.
Still, it will be tough going in the country, Panetta said. “The enemy we are dealing with … is adaptive and resilient,” the secretary said. “Their focus has shifted to carrying out high-profile attacks in order to undermine the new sense of security that has been felt by ordinary Afghans.”
Panetta expects there will be more high-profile attacks like the one that struck Camp Bastion last week.
“The enemy will do whatever they can to try and break our will using this kind of tactic. That will not happen,” he said.
Afghan forces are the “defeat mechanism” of the insurgency, Panetta said.
“We have an enduring commitment to an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and that is never again a safe haven from which terrorists can attack us,” he said. “Our men and women in uniform, our fighting forces, ISAF, Afghanistan fighting forces I think have sent a strong message to the Taliban that time is not on their side.”