KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military has halted the training of some Afghan forces while it digs deeper into their background following a surge of attacks by soldiers and police on their international partners, officials said Sunday.
The move puts only about 1,000 Afghan trainees into limbo, a small fraction of the country's security forces. But it shows how these attacks have the potential to derail the U.S.-Afghan handover of security so essential to the international drawdown strategy.
Officials said the international coalition ultimately hopes to recheck the backgrounds of the entire 350,000-strong Afghan army and police.
The United States and its allies are pushing to have Afghan forces take over security for the country by the end of 2014. This effort has been imperiled by the spike in insider attacks that have killed 45 international service members this year, most of them Americans. There were at least 12 such attacks in August alone, resulting in 15 deaths.
The attacks are straining an alliance stretched by a tense relationship with a corrupt Afghan government and disagreements over NATO tactics that Kabul claims endanger civilians.
Coalition authorities have said about 25 percent of this year's insider attacks had confirmed or suspected links to the Taliban. The militants have either infiltrated the ranks of the Afghan army and police or have coerced or otherwise persuaded legitimate members to turn on their coalition partners.
NATO is training thousands of Afghans. The 1,000 put into limbo by the training freeze are part of a 16,000-strong unit called the Afghan Local Police. They are more of a government-backed militia, technically under the authority of the national police, but operating independently.
It is the only force that the United States alone is in charge of training.
"With this increased interest in the insider threat, everybody started looking at it and saying: 'What can we do to make sure that all of our vetting processes are in place?' We're going through and looking at everything," said Lt. Col. Todd Harrell, a spokesman in Afghanistan for the U.S. special operations forces.
"It may take a month, it may take two months, we don't know," Harrell said.
The suspension was first reported by the Washington Post.
The international military coalition has tightened security in places where Afghans and their international colleagues operate together, but it is unclear if any of these efforts will be enough to avoid more turncoat shootings.
NATO spokesman Jamie Graybeal said the training suspension "is not the sum total of everything that we're doing." Other measures include a more intense vetting system for new recruits, increasing the number of people working in counterintelligence, the re-vetting of Afghan soldiers as they return from leave, and the establishment of an anonymous reporting system, he said.
Harrel said the Afghan Local Police already in the field, who have already been trained, will continue to operate as normal. The government will also keep recruiting new members, he said.
He also disclosed on Sunday that the Americans last month suspended operations by the Afghan special forces to re-vet those soldiers for any potential ties to insurgents or any other indications that they might turn on their allies. He said the suspension lasted less than two weeks and the forces have resumed operations.
The deputy commander of international forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw of Britain, said in a statement that the actions taken by U.S. special operations forces are one part of a plan to re-vet the entire 350,000-member Afghan force.
The most recent insider attack took place last week when an Afghan army soldier turned his gun on Australian soldiers, killing three of them and wounding two, the Australian military said.