Combat Stress May Have Led to Afghan Killings of NATO Troops

Pentagon officials pledge new steps to vet local security, army recruits.

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On the same day that yet another Afghan soldier shot and killed a NATO service member, U.S. military officials told Capitol Hill lawmakers that combat stress and personal problems may have motivated Afghan troops to turn their guns on their NATO trainers. They sidestepped religion or ideology as a motive and saw no evidence the killers were Taliban plants, however.

The officials assured members of the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday they have tightened procedures used to determine whether Afghans pose a threat to American troops. They spoke of new standards and advanced security tools. But it was unclear if those steps will be enough to prevent future killings.

[See pictures of Winter in Afghanistan.]

Several incidents in recent months have left U.S. and French troops dead, with Western officials saying they were slain by Afghan security and military forces. Two deadly shootings of French soldiers in January killed four and caused a dust up between Washington and Paris, with French President Nicholas Sarkozy threatening to withdraw his troops immediately. He later agreed to keep them there to train indigenous troops, but analysts say the new commitment appears shaky.

Several Pentagon officials told the The House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that they've increased scrutiny on the backgrounds of Afghan army recruits and security personnel. The officials promised to put in place a "new vetting process" to screen out would-be attackers.

Several committee members seemed leery of relying on Afghan security forces and private contractors to perform security at NATO and U.S. bases, but the Pentagon officials said the policy frees up U.S. troops for combat missions and nation-building tasks.

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