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Afghan worker kills three U.S. troops on Helmand base

Hours after three U.S. Marines were killed, an Afghan working on a jointly run U.S. and Afghan installation at a police ambushes American troops.

August 11, 2012|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • Afghan police work a roadside checkpoint near the city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Afghan police work a roadside checkpoint near the city of Lashkar Gah in… (Sher Khan, European Pressphoto…)

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan worker on a military base in southern Afghanistan opened fire and killed three U.S. troops, military officials said Saturday, bringing the toll to six American military fatalities in 24 hours at the hands of allies.

The NATO force said the attack took place late Friday in Helmand province, the Taliban movement's heartland, where a turncoat shooting hours earlier claimed the lives of three elite special-operations U.S. Marines.

Compounding the carnage, a rogue Afghan police officer in Nimruz province turned his weapon on fellow Afghan officers Saturday, killing 10 of them, Afghan officials said. The assailant was believed to be a Taliban infiltrator, provincial spokesman Fazel Omer Baloch said.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force has sought to play down the military significance of attacks on Western troops by Afghan police, soldiers or employees of the government or military. But such shootings have escalated this year, with three lethal attacks on American troops in the last week alone.

Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, the German who is the chief spokesman for the NATO force, pointed out that thousands of Afghan and foreign troops work together on a daily basis without episodes of violence. "Those two incidents clearly do not reflect the overall situation here in Afghanistan," Katz told reporters in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Troops in the field, however, say the repeated killings have created a climate of mistrust.

At least 34 NATO troops have died this year in such shootings, poised to surpass the tally of 35 such deaths in all of 2011. An undisclosed number of others have been wounded; the NATO force does not generally report the attacks unless there is a fatality.

Afghan and Western military officials have taken measures to try to stem the casualties, including tighter vetting for Afghan recruits and armed Western troops — dubbed "guardian angels" — watching over comrades as they eat and sleep.

In the latest "insider shooting" incident, an Afghan working on a jointly run U.S. and Afghan installation at a police headquarters ambushed a group of troops about 8 p.m., killing three, Helmand provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi said. U.S. Defense officials confirmed that the victims were Americans, according to Associated Press.

In the earlier killing, the slain Marines had been lured by a police commander to a meal during the dusk-to-dawn hours when Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan are allowed to eat. Afghan and U.S. accounts differed as to whether the meal in question was a dinner time iftar or a predawn breakfast.

Afghan officials and the Western military said the attacks were under investigation, and President Hamid Karzai condemned them.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for both shootings, boasting that the killings were a bellwether of national sentiment toward foreign forces. The NATO force says that relatively few of the shootings are actually carried out by Taliban infiltrators, and that they are usually triggered instead by arguments and antagonism, sometimes magnified by cultural differences.

laura.king@latimes.com

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