Afghan Troops Vetted Again After U.S., NATO Attacks

A top U.S. general in Afghanistan says all 350,000 Afghan troops will be vetted once more in an effort to verify their loyalties and their backgrounds. Already the Afghans have removed as many as 300 Afghan troops who did not measure up. This year there has been a spate of insider attacks on U.S. and NATO troops.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Every member of the Afghan security forces will be put through new background checks to determine whether they're loyal and whether they pose a security threat to American troops. That new stricter screening will apply to 350,000 soldiers and police. As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the effort comes after dozens of U.S. and NATO troops have been shot by men in Afghan uniforms.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The plan to recheck every Afghan soldier, commando and policeman, will require digging through mountains of personnel records. Lieutenant General James Terry is the number two American officer in Afghanistan.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JAMES TERRY: Vetting the entire force I'm sure will take considerable time.

BOWMAN: He wasn't sure how much time, but said it's important to deal with the growing insider threat.

TERRY: I think what the Afghans want to do is be very sure of their process and then go back and recheck.

BOWMAN: So far the Afghans have not been sure of the process to screen their recruits. And today, Afghan officials announced that hundreds of their soldiers have already been kicked out due to the insider attacks. Most of those killed, 45 this year, were Americans. 12 of them died in August alone. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation was an advisor to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He says the new background checks will mean going through every record and report that mentions an Afghan policeman or soldier.

SETH JONES: Simply revetting, looking at intelligence regarding every individual is a huge, huge undertaking.

BOWMAN: And Jones says this undertaking raises an old question: Did the U.S. and its NATO allies, in their zeal to build up the Afghan security forces, move too fast?

JONES: It's hard to know whether this was partly because training happened so quickly, or because the insurgency is making a much stronger, focused effort to infiltrate.

BOWMAN: For some time, the screening process has required criminal record checks and drug screening. Afghan recruits must also have endorsements from village elders. That's hardly foolproof. One U.S. official tells NPR there's now more scrutiny of the elders, since some of them support both the Afghan government and the Taliban. General Terry says the U.S. is assisting the Afghans in these new background checks and searching for any trends in the insider attacks.

TERRY: We're going to look at specific populations within the Afghan national security forces and that helps us actually prioritize where we need to look.

BOWMAN: General Terry wouldn't say what specific populations he was talking about. Seth Jones says the larger issue is that the continued insider attacks, and suspicion about the Afghan forces, could erode American trust.

JONES: If that trust were to break down, it would have a major impact on the ability of the U.S. to continue working closely with Afghanistan out in the field.

BOWMAN: And that's the American exit strategy: working closely with Afghan forces in the field and training them, so they can handle their own security. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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