KABUL - The Taliban on Wednesday claimed credit for NATO's decision to scale back joint operations with Afghan security forces, hailing it as the start of their overall defeat in Afghanistan.
The US-led International Assistance Force announced the change in strategy after an unprecedented number of Western soldiers were shot dead by their local colleagues and amid an angry backlash over a US-made film deemed offensive to Islam.
Experts say the move is a setback for NATO's long-held strategy of containing an 11-year Taliban insurgency by training and advising Afghan forces to take over as most of its troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
Taliban, the main militant group leading the insurgency, said it had "forced" NATO commanders into the decision by sowing distrust among Afghan and foreign troops.
According to NATO, the Taliban are only involved in a quarter of Afghan security personnel attacks on Western soldiers. It attributes the rest to grudges, misunderstandings and cultural differences.
"This is the result of the mujahideen's operations and tactics that forced the enemy to abandon their plans," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told AFP by telephone from an unknown location.
"This is an achievement for the mujahideen who have managed to create mistrust among the enemy forces and, God willing, this is the start of their overall defeat in Afghanistan," the rebel spokesman added.
The surge of so-called insider attacks, unprecedented in modern warfare, have seen Afghan troops opening fire on their NATO colleagues 36 times this year, killing 51 foreign troops - most of them Americans.