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11:10pm UK, Sunday March 11, 2012
The killing of Afghan civilians by a US soldier is a tragedy and represents the worst possible timing for the Nato coalition as they work towards an orderly withdrawal in 2014.
Nato commanders are still trying to repair relations with the Afghan government and the country’s people after US soldiers accidentally burnt copies of the Koran last month.
There were repeated apologies for the Koran incident at every level of the Nato alliance, including a televised statement from President Barack Obama.
However a series of protests and attacks left more than 30 people dead, including six US troops.
In January, video emerged online showing US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. It too prompted a chorus of condemnation at all levels.
Trust is critical… But trust is perhaps even more important with the local civilian population. We depend so heavily on that trust to gain valuable intelligence.
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Kabul
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was deeply disturbed by the video.
“This act by American soldiers is completely inhumane and condemnable in the strongest possible terms,” he said in a statement at the time.
“We expressly ask the US government to urgently investigate the video and apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime.”
Key to the coalition exit strategy is the training of the Afghan security forces but training them to a level that will allow an orderly Nato withdrawal requires trust.
Coalition soldiers work alongside their Afghan counterparts on a daily basis. Incidents like the one in Kandahar naturally puts pressure on the relationship.
Following the the Koran incident, two US soldiers were shot and killed by an Afghan National Army soldier at a protest in Nangarhar province, and two more US soldiers were shot in the south of the country.
Coalition commanders believe they could have been killed by a rogue Afghan soldier who they were trying to train.
In recent years, more than 70 Nato troops have been killed by their Afghan colleagues.
Colonel Richard Kemp was a commander of British forces in Kabul in 2003, three years before British forces expanded their mission with a deployment to Helmand Province.
“Trust is critical,” he told Sky News. “It is essential that trust is forged and maintained with Afghan security forces.
“We have already seen a breakdown of trust when Afghan security forces have targeted and killed Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) soldiers.
“But trust is perhaps even more important with the local civilian population. We depend so heavily on that trust to gain valuable intelligence.”
Nato commanders are still trying to repair relations with the Afghan people
It is almost 10 years since Colonel Kemp was deployed in Afghanistan. He says he never imagined that Nato forces would still be there in such numbers now.
“It would have been hard back there to imagine not only the campaign continuing for this length of time but also gaining in intensity in the way it did,” he said.
“Then, there was much more of an idea that we would train the Afghan security forces and then move ourselves out much more rapidly than we have done.
“There has been a failure to put enough emphasis and attention into Afghanistan both in terms of military forces in early stages and in terms of supporting and building the capability of the Afghan government.
“The other issue is the increasing involvement of the Pakistani government in supporting the insurgency.”