CANBERRA, Australia, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Amid security concerns, Australian troops serving with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan have ended joint patrols with the Afghan military.
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith, while confirming that Australian troops have halted joint patrols with Afghan counterparts, downplayed the issue, however.
When asked whether Australian soldiers will be making joint patrols with Afghan forces, Smith said permission for such operations would have to come from the commander -- a U.S. general -- of the Regional Command South in Afghanistan.
"We will be able to do our local patrols provided we have the approval of the regional commander," Smith said in an interview published Wednesday on the Australian Ministry of Defense website.
Australian ISAF forces in Afghanistan suspended joint patrols with Afghan military forces in the wake of rising tension in the Islamic world amid belief that a controversial film on Islam could spark yet more "green-on-blue" attacks by Afghan soldiers on ISAF personnel.
Australia's decision came after ISAF U.S. commander, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, directed ISAF forces to suspend joint activities below the battalion level.
"Recent media coverage regarding a change in ISAF's model of Security Force Assistance (SFA) to the Afghan National Security Forces is not accurate," a news release posted Tuesday on the ISAF website states.
"ISAF remains absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our (Afghan National Security Forces) counterparts. The ISAF SFA model is focused at the battalion level and above, with exceptions approved by senior commanders.
"Partnering occurs at all levels, from platoon to corps. This has not changed."
The release further acknowledged the unrest caused by the recent Internet posting of a controversial video purportedly defaming the Prophet Muhammad.
"In response to elevated threat levels resulting from the 'Innocence of Muslims' video, ISAF has taken some prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks," the news release stated. "This means that in some local instances, operational tempo has been reduced, or force protection has been increased. These actions balance the tension of the recent video with force protection, while maintaining the momentum of the campaign."
What apparently has changed throughout the ISAF deployment is that ISAF-Afghan operations below battalion level are in abeyance.
"So we're, of course, following the ISAF instruction," Smith said of Australian forces. "We continue to work at the kandak or battalion, level.
"Monday and Tuesday we ceased our joint operations. Today we're discussing with the Afghan kandak or battalion commanders their plans for this week in terms of their own patrols, and also starting the process of putting forward our representations, if you like, to Regional Command South to resume those."