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Insider attacks by Afghan troops who turn their weapons on U.S. and NATO forces have doubled compared to last year, prompting the top U.S. commander in Kabul to step up efforts to identify potential inside-the-wire threats.
A spate of attacks in early August has brought the total of so-called green-on-blue attacks to 29 this year, military officials said. Last year, officials reported 12 similar attacks, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation.
The spike is prompting U.S. officials in Afghanistan to revamp the screening process for Afghan recruits and identify new ways to protect U.S. troops, officials said.
Marine Gen. John Allen, who leads the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, will convene a rare meeting of all U.S. and NATO flag officers in the combat theater.
"This is the topic of that conference. What we are hoping to get from that conference is some thoughts about what more we might do," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told reporters Tuesday.
Allen is also creating new "Joint Casualty Assessment Teams" that will study the recent killings and the Afghan perpetrators to determine possible motivations, as well as assess whether the recruiting process was followed properly and whether warning signs were missed, Dempsey said.
Beyond the attacks, Afghan commanders have found "hundreds" of other soldiers in their ranks who appear to be linked to the Taliban insurgency or hold anti-American views, Dempsey said.
"They have discharged hundred of soldiers who did indicate that some of these young men did have the capability to be radicalized, either by travel back and forth to Pakistan, by literature, by language, by music — there are indicators that we track," Dempsey said.
In one additional measure, Allen is meeting with groups of Afghan village elders who were invited several months ago to join the screening process for Afghan troops. The elders were asked to vouch for Afghan troops who join the security forces.
Now Allen "is going back to them to ensure that that is being done properly," Dempsey said.
Insider attacks have killed 34 NATO troops this year, including 20 Americans. That accounts for nearly 10 percent of the 224 U.S. troops killed in action this year. Since 2007, a total of 102 NATO troops, including 51 Americans, have been killed in insider attacks, according to the New American Foundation.
The heightened concern comes as the latest drawdown of U.S troops is underway and force levels fall from 90,000 this summer to 68,000 by late September. The troop drawdown may result in more U.S. troops in small units embedded with Afghan forces to train and advise the fledgling local force.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the continued attacks are troubling, but will not impact the long-term U.S. strategy of assigning troops to live with and train Afghan forces.
"Make no mistake about it, I've been very concerned about these incidents … because of the lives lost and because of the potential damage to our partnership efforts," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, he said, "We have not and will not allow this kind of intimidation to undermine our efforts to build up the [Afghan National Security Forces]. Our forces continue to partner closely in the field and they have not let these incidents disrupt those operations."