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Afghan policeman reportedly kills 2 U.S. soldiers while on joint patrol

Afghan officials say 2 other soldiers were injured when the policeman turned his gun on American troops. U.S. officials say the deaths occurred during a firefight.

October 04, 2009|Laura King

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Eight American service members were killed in coordinated attacks on two outposts in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan, military officials said today.

The attacks in Nuristan province, which took place Saturday, also killed two Afghan soldiers, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for U.S. forces, Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, confirmed that all the Western troops killed were Americans.

Many remote outposts like the ones hit in this assault, by what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization described as "tribal militia," are due to be shut down under a new strategy put forth by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of all Western troops in Afghanistan.

In another attack, an Afghan policeman on a joint patrol with American troops in a province near Kabul, the capital, turned his gun on U.S. soldiers, killing two of them, Afghan officials said Saturday.

American military officials confirmed the deaths but said, without elaborating, that they had occurred in a firefight. Afghan officials said two other U.S. troops were injured Friday in the shooting in Wardak province, the Associated Press said.

Instances of members of Afghan security forces opening fire on their U.S. allies are rare, but when they occur they fuel fear that insurgents have infiltrated the Afghan police and army. Afghan and U.S. troops work in concert across large swaths of the country, with the aim of ultimately handing responsibility for safeguarding the public to Afghan police officers and soldiers.

One more U.S. soldier died Friday of wounds suffered a day earlier in a separate incident in Wardak province, west of the capital, the military said Saturday.

The steady pace of violence comes as the Obama administration is wrestling with the question of whether to commit more troops to the Afghan conflict, as McChrystal, has urged.

The continuing fighting also comes against a backdrop of political turmoil after Afghanistan's inconclusive Aug. 20 presidential election, which has sparked quarrels over allegations of fraud.

A partial recount based on a statistical sampling of disputed votes is to begin as early as today.. The initial tally gave President Hamid Karzai more than the 50% he would need for outright victory, but the recount is expected to strip him of some of that support.

Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, on Saturday warned against any kind of coverup in determining the official tally. Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has sharply questioned the integrity of the main Afghan electoral body, as well as of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, which appointed most members of the commission that is to address complaints of fraud.

Last week, the United Nations fired the top U.S. official in the Afghan mission, Peter W. Galbraith, who had clashed with his superiors over how aggressively to pursue allegations of widespread irregularities.

At a news conference Saturday, Abdullah called for full transparency in the ballot audit, warning against any attempt to cover up fraud in the original vote.

"This is not about one candidate," he said. "It is about the rule of law."

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laura.king@latimes.com

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