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Unfriendly fire erupts on 2 fronts : Marine kills an Afghan policeman

January 16, 2011|Laura King

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A U.S. Marine shot and killed an Afghan policeman who pointed a weapon at him 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 from British forces last fall, as part of a drive to expel Taliban fighters from their traditional heartland in Afghanistan's south.

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

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

Despite a planned Western expenditure of about $20 billion all told over 2010 and 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 in the Afghan army and, especially, the police.

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

The Marine told his commanding officers that the Afghan policeman had made threatening statements and handled his weapon carelessly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force said in a statement. 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 Marine ordered the Afghan policeman to put down his weapon, the NATO statement said.

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

Western military officials said the investigation was continuing.

laura.king@latimes.com

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