Dempsey: Insider attacks a pressing issue for both US commanders, Afghans

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Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, in an interview with Fox News during his trip to Afghanistan, said that the recent rash of insider attack have loomed over all his discussions there with Gen. John Allen and commanders in the field.

“I'll tell you what's different this time than other visits I've had,” Dempsey told Fox as combat planes took off from a nearby airfield. “In particular, what's different about this conversation is that the Afghans themselves are now as seized and concerned about this as we've been. That wasn't always the case.”

Last week after two separate incidents in which six Americans were killed by Afghan insiders, Gen. Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan ordered all coalition personnel to be armed and have their weapons loaded at all times, even on “secure” bases.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the weekend and demanded he do more. President Obama and Dempsey suggested Monday they would call Karzai as well.

“We are deeply concerned about this and top to bottom and hopefully over the next several weeks,” Obama said during a news conference Monday at the White House after speaking with Dempsey by phone. “We'll start seeing better progress on this front.”

There have been 40 U.S. or NATO service members killed this year by uniformed Afghans being trained by Western forces or Afghans given permission to work on U.S. bases. One in four troops killed in Afghanistan since January have been killed by Afghans who were supposed to be vetted allies.

Dempsey says his Afghan counterpart promised to do more.

“They're looking at literature, they are looking at the music that these young men listen to. So I mean it's a holistic kind of approach to this. I'm not suggesting we can eliminate it, but I think we can reduce it,” Dempsey told Fox News.

Some of the attacks are the result of cultural slights by Americans and resentments after 10 years of war.

“There's a percentage which are in fact infiltration,” Dempsey said. “There's a percentage which are cultural affronts. There's a percentage of PTSD. You know these young men have been at war for 30 years in some cases, or at least their country has, so it's all of those things, which makes it complex. But you know, we've got to get after it.”

Dempsey said that these insider attacks aren't going to cause the U.S. and others to change the withdrawal timeline currently set for 2014.

“No, there was no discussion of that," he said.

At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, were asked about the new danger in Afghanistan.

“I have a grandson headed to Afghanistan in 30 days, but I want to know what you're going to do in Afghanistan,” one veteran asked. “We have those characters over there shooting our guys. So when you take over Washington, what are you going do about this damn mess in Afghanistan?”

“I expect the president to address the nation on a regular basis and explain what's happening, what the mission is,” Romney answered. “He hasn't done this.”

Obama said he expressed his concern to Dempsey on their phone call.

“He's having intense consultations, not only with John Allen, our commander on the ground, but also with his Afghan counterparts and I'll be reaching out to President Karzai as well," Obama said.

Dempsey had this to say about Afghanistan being a backburner election issue: “It could be evidence of war weariness and ... I hope that's not the case."

Two mortars were fired at Bagram Air Base during Dempsey's visit, but no one was hurt.

“You know we still have 68,000 young men and women in harm's way," Dempsey told Fox News. "Look, you know, I'm using my bully pulpit to remind everyone that we still have these young men and women doing the nation's work and doing it admirably.”