BRUSSELS - Nato strategy in Afghanistan is unchanged and scaling back joint operations with Afghan patrols to prevent further Western deaths by locals is prudent and temporary, Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Tuesday.

Rasmussen, who has previously expressed “deep concerns” over insider attacks on Nato troops with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, stressed that the two sides would continue to work together, “so our strategy remains the same.”

Nato remains committed to seeing “Afghans fully in charge of their own security by the end of 2014. That is the bottom line. The goal is unchanged, the strategy remains the same and the timeline remains the same.”

Rasmussen rejected suggestions that the move, sparked by a mounting death toll, showed the insurgents were gaining the initiative.

“No, not at all,” he said, arguing that the fact the move was possible at all showed that “Afghan security forces are able to operate on their own.”

Earlier in Kabul, Nato announced it was cutting joint operations after an unprecedented number of Western soldiers were shot dead by their local colleagues and as anger erupted over an anti-Islam film.

Nato insisted partnering would continue at all levels and presented the decision as a change to mitigate the risk of joint operations, rather than a suspension of joint operations.

Under the new order, Nato and Pentagon officials said most joint patrols and advisory work with Afghans will be conducted at the battalion level and above.

Cooperation at a lower level will have to be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis and approved by” regional two-star commanders, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said in a statement.

Although Isaf called the changes “temporary” they also appeared to be indefinite.

Some 36 insider attacks have claimed the lives of 51 troops in the Nato-led coalition so far this year, casting doubt on the credibility of Isaf’s “shoulder-to-shoulder” motto. Commanders believe only a quarter of the assaults are linked to the Taliban.

While, the White House insisted Tuesday that a scaling back of Nato operations with Afghans after a spate of killings of Westerners by supposed local comrades will not slow a 2014 withdrawal timeline.

Nato ordered the move after an unprecedented number of Western troops died in “green on blue” killings by members of the Afghan security forces in a setback to the US-led strategy of training local troops to guarantee future security.

“It doesn’t affect the timeline,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, adding that “partnering continues” between Nato and Afghan forces with the changes and directives laid out by top brass in Afghanistan.

“The transition that the president has laid out will absolutely continue,” Carney said.

President Barack Obama’s spokesman however sidestepped a question about comments by the top US military officer General Martin Dempsey, who said the spate of killings posed “a very serious threat” to the Afghan campaign.

“There is no question that the steps that are being taken by our commanders, by General (John) Allen, by Isaf in reaction to these reflect a serious concern about the increase in these attacks,” he said. “And it is their commitment and the president’s commitment that we take the steps necessary to enhance security for our forces in Afghanistan even as we continue with the mission.”

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Tuesday Nato’s reduction of joint patrols with Afghan troops will have a minimal impact on operations and are not a change in strategy.

Hammond accused the media of overreacting to the decision, made after a spate of “insider attacks” in which Afghan recruits turned their weapons on Western troops preparing them for a security handover in 2014.

The issue led to a stormy session in parliament, with a lawmaker from the opposition Labour party being banned from the House of Commons after calling Hammond a liar.

“There has been no change of policy in Afghanistan,” Hammond told lawmakers after he was called to answer an urgent question on the issue. The UK partnering and mentoring operations will continue substantially unchanged by this order.” Hammond denied that the move would affect the coalition’s war strategy.