WASHINGTON -- Michele Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official and current foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama's campaign, said Tuesday that insider attacks by Afghan troops against their American partners are a "very occasional" problem and a sign of "Taliban desperation."
"It's very tragic and it's very upsetting when these things happen," said Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012, who was speaking at a small gathering at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. "But they are a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of a percentage of the overall interactions that are happening."
Insider attacks, also described as green-on-blue, have spiked this year in Afghanistan, resulting so far in 51 deaths among soldiers from the U.S. and other NATO allies. The problem has grown so great in recent months that American commanders decided to halt the training program for some Afghan police units and cease all joint patrols, while they rescreen recruits and consider their options.
One of those options, raised in an essay on Foreign Policy Wednesday by a former top commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, would be to scuttle the exit plan as scripted and significantly expedite the handover of responsibility to the Afghans.
"If popular tolerance for battlefield deaths was tenuous, there is near zero patience with attacks from the very Afghan forces the allies have been working with over the last eleven years," wrote David Barno, a retired general who is now a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security.
"The strategic logic of this costly effort in a world where U.S. military power is stretched thin is painfully elusive. It is time to put President [Hamid] Karzai and his troops in the lead and more rapidly draw down U.S. military forces to a sustainable, modest level of support," Barno concluded.
In response to a Huffington Post question at the Tuesday event, Flournoy argued that "these very occasional green-on-blue violent incidents" are not, in fact, an indication of the strategy faltering, but are instead "a sign of, I believe, Taliban desperation."
"The fact is in the last several fighting seasons, since the surge, the Taliban has not been able to regain territory and hold it," she said. "They have been losing influence. This is a change of tactic, it's an asymmetric tactic, to try to break the will of the coalition."
Flournoy also suggested that in the majority of cases, the insider attacks had nothing to do with Taliban infiltration and were instead linked to disgruntlement and "folks with PTSD."
Last week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta acknowledged that insider attacks are a cause for concern, but, like Flournoy, said they're a sign of the Taliban's shifting tactics, not growing stronger.
Watch the full video of Flournoy's answer in the video above.
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