Attacks by uniformed Afghans on foreign soldiers
will not deter NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
from carrying out its mission in Afghanistan, NATO chief Anders Fogh
Rasmussen and US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday.
Green-on-blue attacks have been blamed for 53 troop deaths this year, raising concern that they will undermine trust between Afghan and NATO forces and affect public support in NATO countries.
Five years ago, only two deaths had been recorded in as many attacks, according to NATO figures. Last year, by contrast, it was 35 deaths in 21 attacks.
"This is a real challenge and we take it very seriously," Rasmussen said after a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels. "But these insider attacks will not have an impact on our strategy - neither our strategy nor our timeline."
"Whatever tactics the enemy throws at us - improvised explosive devices, insider attacks, car bombs - we will not allow those tactics to divide us from our Afghan partners and we will not allow those tactics to divert us from the mission," Panetta said.
"We've come too far, we've fought too many battles, we have spilled too much blood not to finish the job," he added.
Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi argued that Taliban infiltration has been "the main factor" behind the attacks, although NATO officials have also blamed problems like cultural clashes and personal disputes.
The Afghan government must do its part to stop the trend, German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, calling the attacks "outrageous and alarming."
"We will do away with this ... We will abolish this threat," Mohammadi pledged before journalists.
Rasmussen insisted that the attacks have played no role in decisions on how quickly NATO combat troops should withdraw from Afghanistan, a process that is due to end in 2014.
Mohammadi said he had no doubts that Afghan forces would be able to ensure security in the country afterwards, while also calling on NATO to help equip the troops.
The minister said he had additionally requested assistance from the United States to help stop cross-border shelling with Pakistan.
Once it wraps up its combat operations, NATO will launch a new training mission in Afghanistan - tentatively codenamed ITAAM.
Ministers on Wednesday tasked military experts to draw up its plans, with key questions such as how many soldiers it will require or how much it will cost still open.
In the meantime, ISAF is set to get a new chief, with Panetta announcing in Brussels that its current commander, US General John Allen, will be nominated to take charge of all NATO military operations as the new Supreme Allied Commander Europe next year.
US General Joseph Dunford has been nominated to succeed him at the head of the Afghanistan mission.
Ministers also discussed NATO's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR, at the behest of Germany, which contributes the most troops - some 1,300 out of the approximately 6,140 total soldiers.
Berlin is pushing for the troops to be redistributed, with more focus on the unstable Serb enclave in the north of the country.
"I think you will see some rebalancing in the coming months, with a stronger focus on the north of Kosovo, taking into account the volatile situation we have witnessed there," Rasmussen said.
Germany hopes the redistribution will allow 700 reserve troops - mostly stemming from Germany, Austria and Italy - to be freed up.
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