By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan army has detained or sacked hundreds of soldiers for having links to insurgents, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday, as it tries to stem an alarming number of so-called insider attacks eroding trust between Afghans and their allies.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed strong concern over the attacks, in which Afghan servicemen have killed at least 45 NATO-force troops this year, including 15 in August, compared with 35 for all of last year.
"Hundreds were sacked or detained after showing links with insurgents. In some cases we had evidence against them, in others we were simply suspicious," Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi told reporters in Kabul.
"Using an army uniform against foreign forces is a serious point of concern not only for the Defence Ministry but for the whole Afghan government," Azimi said, adding that President Hamid Karzai had ordered Afghan forces to devise ways to stop insider attacks.
Azimi declined to say whether the detained and fired soldiers were from the Taliban stronghold areas of the south and east. They were from all over the country, he said.
He said his Ministry started an investigation into the attacks, which are also called green-on-blue attacks, within the 195,000-strong Afghan army six months ago.
Rasmussen, in an interview with Reuters this week, said NATO, which trains the army and police, had strengthened vetting procedures to try to exclude suspect recruits and was ready to take further steps if necessary, though he gave no details.
He dismissed any suggestion that the rogue attacks would lead to more members of the NATO-led force pulling out early from an increasingly unpopular and costly war that has dragged on with few obvious signs of success since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
But tension is simmering. The shooting dead of three Australian troops by an Afghan army sergeant in the south last week prompted a deadly raid to find the rogue soldier, causing a war of words between Canberra and Kabul.
The approximately 150,000-strong Afghan National Police, whose members have also carried out rogue attacks, operates separately from the army under the Ministry of Interior.
U.S. forces said on Sunday they had suspended training new recruits to the 16,000-strong Afghan Local Police, a militia separate from the police, following the spike in insider attacks.
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Robert Birsel)