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Pace of 'insider' shootings intensifying in Afghanistan

Two Americans are killed by a rookie Afghan policeman in Farah province, bringing the number of such attacks to nine in 11 days.

August 17, 2012|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • The commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. John Allen, issued a strongly worded statement after the "insider" shooting that killed two Americans and wounded a third on Aug. 17.
The commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. John Allen, issued… (Musadeq Sadeq, Associated…)

KABUL, Afghanistan — No sooner had freshly minted Afghan policeman Mohammad Ismail been issued his service weapon than he turned it on his American mentors.

The killings of two Americans and the wounding of a third Friday by the new recruit to an Afghan village police force brought the number of U.S. forces killed in "insider" shootings — attacks by Afghan allies on Western troops — to nine in 11 days.

Underscoring the scope and perniciousness of the problem, another such shooting took place just hours later in nearby Kandahar province, but did not result in any deaths except that of the assailant, an Afghan soldier. Two NATO troops were wounded in that attack, military officials said.

The fatal shooting occurred in Farah province, bordering Iran. The attacker, who had joined a village militia known as the Afghan Local Police just five days earlier, was about to take part in his first weapons-training session, Afghan officials said. Instead, he opened fire on the American troops.

Afghan authorities said Ismail, who headed a 10-man squad of recruits, also killed a member of the Afghan national police in his burst of gunfire before being killed by return fire. Another member of the Afghan Local Police was wounded in the melee.

Military officials declined to identify the branch of service of the two dead Americans, but U.S. special operations forces are the principal mentors of the Afghan Local Police, a self-defense force that was set up with U.S. backing to help keep the Taliban from taking over rural communities.

Friday's shooting, which came as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was drawing to a close, took place in the village of Kanesk, said Aqa Noor Kentoz, Farah's provincial police chief. He said Ismail's attack began moments after he was given the gun, as the recruits and their U.S. mentors were gathered on a firing range.

TheU.S. militarysaid in a statement that the incident was under investigation.

Insider shootings, carried out by Afghan police, soldiers or other members of the security apparatus, have risen sharply this year, with the pace intensifying in recent weeks. Last week alone there were three lethal assaults that killed seven American troops, including six U.S. Marines.

The NATO force does not routinely report insider attacks that do not result in Western troop deaths, but military officials sometimes confirm accounts of nonlethal incidents provided by Afghan authorities. Counting Friday's attack in Kandahar province, there have been at least three failed attempts this month by members of the Afghan security forces to kill NATO troops.

The NATO force says only a small percentage of insider attacks are carried out by shooters planted by the Taliban. But a message attributed to the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, boasted that Taliban fighters had "cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy."

The commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, issued a strongly worded statement of his own Friday, which marked the start of Eid al-Fitr, the feast that ends the fasting month of Ramadan.

"Omar … says his thugs have infiltrated the ranks ofAfghanistan'slegitimate armed forces," Allen wrote. "The pride of the Afghan people has been smeared by killers who pose as soldiers and police.... The Afghan army and national police are trying to build a better future for Afghanistan, yet Omar wants to stop these efforts."

laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.

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