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Marine shoots policeman in Afghanistan

Incident occurs in Helmand province, one of the region's most troubled enclaves

January 15, 2011|By Laura King

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan

A U.S. Marine shot and killed an Afghan policeman who pointed a weapon at him on Saturday, Western military officials said. The incident took place at an outpost in the Sangin district of Helmand province, one of the most troubled enclaves in Afghanistan.

Marines from Camp Pendleton took over command of the violent district in the autumn of 2010 from British forces, as part of a drive to expel Taliban fighters from their traditional heartland in Afghanistan's south.

The shooting pointed up ongoing tensions between the Western military and Afghan counterparts at a crucial phase of their partnership. The Obama administration and other Western governments hope that Afghan security forces -- the police and army -- will be ready to take the lead in safeguarding the country by 2014.

But Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged days ago during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan that 2014 was unlikely to represent an end date for the American and NATO presence in Afghanistan, even if a U.S. drawdown begins as scheduled this summer.

Despite a planned Western expenditure of about $20 billion over 2010-2011, the effort to bring the Afghan security forces up to an acceptable standard faces many obstacles, including illiteracy, drug abuse, discipline issues and high dropout rates among recruits to both the Afghan police and army, especially the police.

Western military officials said Saturday's shooting took place after a dispute between the two men during "static security operations" -- a term that generally means they were at their base and not in the field.

Prior to the shooting, the Marine told his commanding officers that the Afghan policeman had made threatening statements and handled his weapon carelessly, the NATO force said. Soon after that, "the uniformed police member returned with his weapon raised and pointed it toward the Marine," according to the statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The Western military characterized it as an "escalation of force" incident _ one in which the troop or troops in question give someone who is perceived as posing a threat a warning to immediately desist. In this instance, the Marine ordered the Afghan policeman to put down his weapon.

"The individual failed to comply with instructions and the Marine fired two rounds," killing the policeman, the NATO statement said.

Western military officials said the investigation was continuing.

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