The decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and build up local forces “as quickly as possible” has contributed to “insider attacks,” three senators said Wednesday in a joint statement criticizing the Obama administration’s policies.
On Sunday, four U.S. soldiers were killed in an attack suspected of being carried out by members of the Afghan police; that came a day after two British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman.
On Monday, officials told NBC News that most joint U.S.-Afghan military operations had been suspended because of the attacks.
“We’re to the point now where we can’t trust these people,” a senior military official said.
So far this year, 51 NATO troops have been killed in these so-called blue-on-green attacks.
Afghan security forces turned their guns on U.S. and NATO troops, killing four American soldiers and two British troops. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
On Wednesday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement that “in light of the tragic recent attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, we understand and respect the rationale for scaling back combined operations between coalition and Afghan troops.”
“However, we also believe this decision raises questions about the broader strategy that the Obama administration has been pursuing in this conflict, especially with respect to its timetable for drawing down our military forces in Afghanistan,” they said.
The statement said the administration had “repeatedly deployed fewer forces than our commanders recommended” over the last three years and “is now drawing down those forces in larger numbers and at a faster pace than our commanders advised.”
“Our military leaders have testified to Congress that these decisions have put our mission in Afghanistan at greater risk, and those risks are now becoming more apparent,” the senators said. “In particular, we are concerned that the rush to build up the Afghan National Security Forces as quickly as possible -- so that U.S. forces could begin withdrawing on the Administration's timetable -- has contributed to the problem of the so-called 'insider attacks'.”
They said President Barack Obama had said the drawdown of U.S. forces would be in response to conditions on the ground.
“We believe those conditions are now worrisome enough to justify an immediate suspension of further U.S. troop withdrawals at this time,” the senators said. “The purpose of this 'strategic pause' should be to give our commanders time to evaluate the effects of recent troop withdrawals and to offer their best military advice on how we can achieve our goals in Afghanistan, while preventing further attacks on our forces and those of our allies. We cannot afford to rush to failure in Afghanistan.”
Responding to the statement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama believes the transition to an Afghan security lead is "absolutely essential" after more than a decade of war.
"We have expended a great deal of blood and treasure in that effort," Carney said Wednesday. "And it is through the heroic and remarkable service of our men and women in uniform in particular that we are at a place now where Afghan security forces have developed capabilities and have developed the numbers that allows them to gradually take over security lead."
Carney added that the green-on-blue attacks are "a very concerning problem," and U.S. officials are working to protect against such attacks, but the transition process will not be affected.
NBC's Libby Leist and Ali Weinberg contributed to this report.
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