WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and its allies have made only spotty and incremental progress in the Afghan war, with overall violence declining just slightly in the past year and widespread corruption continuing to hamper the shaky government, according to a new Pentagon report.
It also noted that the ongoing insider attacks, in which Afghan forces or people dressed in Afghan uniforms turn their weapons on coalition troops, "have the potential to significantly disrupt the Coalition mission in Afghanistan."
The report comes as the U.S. Army is updating its handbook for soldiers on how to detect and prevent such attacks. A draft of the 70-page handbook includes a pullout tip card that details indicators of a possible insider attack, such as reclusive behavior, desire for control, increased focus on violence and abrupt behavioral changes.
It also reminds soldiers to be aware of cultural differences, including the need to avoid doing things in front of Afghans that are considered offensive. Troops, the handbook says, should not blow their noses, put their feet up on desks, wink, spit, point fingers at Afghans or use the "ok" hand signal, which some Afghans interpret as an obscene gesture,
The handbook, titled "Insider Threats-Afghanistan, Observations, insights and Lessons Learned," also details the more than 320 casualties caused by insider attacks between May 2007 and Oct. 1, 2012. A recent review of the data by The Associated Press revealed that the Haqqani insurgent network, based in Pakistan and with ties to al-Qaida, is suspected of being a driving force behind a significant number of the insider attacks.
Military leaders have worked to reduce the insider threat, noting that it is driving a wedge between coalition and Afghan troops, rattling the trust between them and raising questions about how effectively the allied forces can train the Afghans to take over security of their own country in 2014 and beyond.
The senior U.S. official acknowledged Monday that the U.S. continues to be very concerned about the attacks, even though there have been fewer in recent months. The coalition forces are trying to identify high-risk groups and Afghans, and the handbook is aimed at helping them do that.
At least 63 coalition troops — mostly Americans — have been killed, by the AP's count, and more than 85 wounded in at least 46 insider attacks so far this year. That's an average of nearly one attack a week. In 2011, 21 insider attacks killed 35.
At the same time, Taliban leaders are calling on insurgents to battle on through the coming winter season to try and take back ground they've lost, but a senior defense official said Monday that the U.S. has seen no increased effort on the part of the fighters as a result.
The semiannual report released Monday shows that the number of enemy attacks for the first nine months of the year dipped by about 3 percent compared to the same time frame in 2011, but the level of violence was actually higher this year than it was in 2009.
The report also blamed this year's shortened poppy harvest for a brief uptick in enemy attacks over the spring. The report said that lower-level insurgents often work during the harvest, lowering the attack levels for roughly six weeks. But weather shortened the harvest to 2-3 weeks this year, allowing militants to return to the battlefield more quickly.
The senior defense official, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the report so requested anonymity, said that while violence levels have remained relatively constant, the violence has been pushed out of heavily populated areas.