Hundreds of Afghan soldiers are training in counterintelligence to stop Afghan and coalition forces from being attacked by rogue policemen and soldiers, or militants impersonating them.
The program is expected to double by the end of the year _ and not a moment too soon, with nearly daily attacks since Friday killing five NATO troops, nine members of the Afghan security forces and an interpreter. In what was a symbolic victory for militants, a man in an Afghan army uniform penetrated to the heart of the Afghan Defense Ministry compound on Monday and gunned down two Afghan soldiers.
Militants hope to undermine trust between coalition and Afghan forces, who are increasingly partnered as the Afghans prepare to take the lead in securing the nation by the end of 2014. Last year, there were 10,400 partnered operations _ up from 530 in 2009, the coalition said.
Convinced that insurgents were ramping up reconnaissance on security force movements, Afghan defense officials approached the U.S.-led coalition late last year and requested counterintelligence instruction for some of their top soldiers.
So far, U.S. and French forces have trained 220 Afghan soldiers to spot possible Taliban infiltrators, disgruntled soldiers within the ranks and other conditions that could make the force vulnerable to attack, according to U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of NATO's training mission in Afghanistan. The plan is to have 445 soldiers trained in counterintelligence by the end of the year.
Since March 2009, the coalition has recorded 20 incidents where a member of the Afghan security forces or someone wearing a uniform used by them killed coalition forces. Thirty-six coalition troops have died. It is not known how many of the 282,000 members of the Afghan security forces were killed.
The data were provided by three intelligence officers with the coalition who briefed The Associated Press on Tuesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose results of investigations into some of the attacks and discuss ways Afghan recruits are vetted.
Half of the 20 incidents involved the impersonation of an Afghan policeman or soldier, the officers said. Afghan security force uniforms are easily obtained at stores in Kabul, and the Interior Ministry is planning a crackdown on the illegal uniform market, they said.
The cause of the other 10 incidents were attributed to combat stress or unknown reasons. The officers insisted that so far, there is no solid information that an insurgent was directed to join the army for the purpose of conducting attacks.
They said an Afghan man wearing a border police uniform who shot and killed two American military personnel April 4 in northwest Faryab province was upset over the burning of the Quran at a Florida church.
An Afghan soldier who shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others Feb. 18 in northern Baghlan province felt he had been personally offended by his German partners, they said.
An Afghan border policeman who gunned down six American soldiers Nov. 29, 2010 in eastern Nangarhar province was suffering from personal stress because his father was forcing him into an arranged marriage.
Insurgents tell a different story. They claim the Afghan shooters in nearly every incident are sleeper agents in the army or police.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shootings at the defense ministry, saying one of their agents planned the attack to coincide with a visit of the
French defense minister, who was in Kabul but not at the ministry at the time.
Investigators are also trying to understand why an Afghan soldier walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at a base in eastern Laghman province on Saturday and detonated a vest of explosives. The bombing killed five American troops, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter. Afghan officials are going to the bomber's village to interview the elders who vouched for him.
The day before, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters, killing the top law enforcement officer and two other policemen.
Abdul Hadi Khalid, a former deputy Afghan interior minister and defense analyst, said the recent attacks are indicative of weak intelligence.
"They cannot find out what's really going on or provide tips to the leaders," Khalid said. "The minister is not even able to defend his own office building. How was it that this terrorist was able to get into the ministry? Some people had to have helped facilitate him so he could reach almost to the minister's office."
Recruits are issued identity cards and must present letters from two elders from their village who can attest to their identity and motivation for serving in the Afghan security forces. The recruits must also supply personal information and are subjected to criminal record checks.
They also must submit to drug and medical screening along with biometrics information. About 6 percent of recruits are turned away for drug use or medical problems.
Still, Caldwell acknowledges that certain individuals who already joined the force before the more stringent vetting system were instituted in late 2009 could pose threats.
The Afghan defense ministry is trying to address this problem by performing an army-wide "inventory" to vet every current member of the force, he said.
"Everybody is vetted coming in," he said. "Not everybody was vetted who is in there now."
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.