By Larry Shaughnessy
One third of all American troop deaths in Afghanistan this year has been at the hands of Afghan security forces.
The latest occurred Monday when a man alleged to be a local Afghan policeman killed an American service member in eastern Afghanistan.
So far this year, 16 of the 46 American service members killed in Afghanistan have died in what are euphemistically called "green on blue" attacks: Afghan troops who have turned their weapons on allied forces.
Also Monday, two British troops were shot and killed by an Afghan soldier in the southern province of Helmand, NATO and Afghan officials said.
"There is an erosion of trust that has emerged from this," Gen. John Allen, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told an audience at the Brookings Institution on Monday. "But I believe that the relationship is very strong nonetheless."
Allen said ISAF officials are working on a new procedure to check the backgrounds of Afghans who sign up for the army or police force, and the Afghans "have taken a lot of steps themselves."
"They've worked very closely within the national director of security to place counterintelligence operatives inside their schools, inside their recruiting centers, and inside the ranks, the idea being to spot and assess the potential emergence of an individual who could be an extremist or, in fact, a Taliban infiltrator," he said.
"The Taliban, of course, takes credit for all of them when, in fact, the majority are not, in fact, a direct result of Taliban infiltration," Allen said.
Allen said that the systems the Afghans and ISAF have in place to help stop these attacks before they happen is having an effect.
"There have been some breakthroughs, in fact, in Afghan investigations, in arrests that have been made of elements that have been found in ranks that potentially could have been a perpetrator for a green-on-blue. So the process is actually working.”
Monday's deaths bring to 93 the number of coalition service members who have died in Afghanistan this year.
In some attacks, insurgents have disguised themselves as Afghan soldiers in order to infiltrate bases. But the incidents have fueled mutual distrust at a critical juncture of the long-running conflict.
The latest killings come after a shooting rampage in Afghanistan this month left 17 villagers dead in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province. A U.S. soldier, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, has been charged with murder in the slayings.
Speaking after the deaths of the two British soldiers on Monday, Allen said he could not discount revenge as a factor.
"I don't connect the two of those, but in any case it is prudent for us to recognize that, as you know, revenge is an important dimension in this culture," Allen said. "I have seen no indications yet that it has emerged as a potential factor, but we will certainly keep an eye on it."
Disputes can arise from cultural misunderstanding, religious and ideological friction or combat stress, said Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, director of the Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell in the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff office.
Townsend said cultural training has been vital for U.S. soldiers, and now the Afghans are considering the same to provide a better understanding of Americans.
The Helmand governor on Monday praised ISAF troops for their sacrifices and assistance to the Afghan people.
"The enemies of the people and peace want to finish confidence among Afghan and ISAF forces, but they will never cover their evil aims by carrying out such violent acts," he said in a statement.