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Military officials are cautiously optimistic about a recent lull in insider attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
November marked the first month in 2012 when no American service members were killed by Afghan security forces, and no attacks have been reported so far in December.
Afghan troops killed a total of 35 Americans between January and October, accounting for more than 10 percent of U.S. troop deaths so far this year. The attacks have sowed a deep distrust among many U.S. troops and fundamentally altered day-to-day life on many forward operating bases.
The recent calm may be attributed to new efforts to identify warning signs among the Afghan soldiers who pose the biggest risk, such as those who have recently visited Pakistan, those who recently returned from leave, or those who voice anti-American sentiments, said a senior defense official.
"You start identifying those groups that are at higher risk, and paying closer attention to them, and then you are able to have a better chance at preventing them," said the senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"There have been significantly fewer [insider attacks] over the last several months than before. However, I would be very loathe to say — in fact I would not say it's a problem that's been solved. It's a problem we continue to address," the defense official said.
The number of attacks reached a peak in August, when 12 incidents resulted in the deaths of 12 Americans.
Since then, the number has declined. In September, four attacks caused six U.S. deaths. In October, five attacks caused two deaths. And the two attacks reported in November killed one NATO service member who was not an American, according to Pentagon data.
Taliban insurgent leaders claim responsibility for nearly every attack, but U.S. military officials have been reluctant to acknowledge their direct role, often instead attributing the attacks to personal disputes between individual U.S. and Afghan troops.
However, a recent Pentagon report on the war's progress cited the link between the two. The insurgents may not be planning and providing logistical support for many attacks, but the militant groups are fueling the motivation, the report said.
"Insurgent propaganda and messaging has played a role in many attacks. Insurgents have adopted insider attacks as a tactic to create a seam between [U.S. and NATO troops] and the [Afghan National Security Forces], sowing mistrust between partners and undermining domestic support for the campaign. Such attacks are helpful to the insurgency whether or not the insurgency is directly responsible," according to the report released Monday.