Kabul: NATO is scaling back joint operations with Afghans after an unprecedented number of Western soldiers were shot dead by their local colleagues and as anger erupts over an anti-Islam film, officers said.
The move marks a setback to the US-led strategy for containing an 11-year Taliban insurgency, as a phased withdrawal of Western troops hinges on training and advising Afghan forces to take their place within two years.
But NATO insisted partnering would continue at all levels and rushed to present the move as a change to mitigate the risk of joint operations, rather than a suspension of joint operations.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday the strategy in Afghanistan was unchanged and scaling back joint operations in order to prevent further Western deaths by locals was prudent and temporary.
He said NATO remained committed to seeing Afghans in charge of their own security by the end of 2014.
"That is the bottom line. The goal is unchanged, the strategy remains the same and the timeline remains the same," he said, while rejecting suggestions the move showed insurgents were gaining initiative.
Under the new order, NATO and Pentagon officials said most joint patrols and advisory work with Afghans will be conducted at the battalion level and above.
Cooperation at a lower level will have to be "evaluated on a case-by-case basis and approved by" regional two-star commanders, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
The scale of attacks by Afghan troops against their NATO allies has never before been seen in modern warfare and both sides have struggled to stem the problem.
The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, "has directed all operational commanders to review force protection and tactical activities in the light of the current circumstances", a US military officer in Washington said in an email.