An Afghan army soldier on Tuesday checks people on a roadside in Helmand… (Sher Khan / European Pressphoto…)
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A British soldier was shot and killed when a man believed to be a member of the Afghan National Army turned his weapon on foreign troops and his Afghan colleagues in a restive southern province, officials said Tuesday.
Monday’s attack appeared to be the latest in a rash of insider killings that has eroded trust between Afghan troops and their foreign mentors as the country prepares for the withdrawal of most international forces by the end of 2014.
It came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other top Afghan officials were en route to Washington for a meeting Friday with President Obama to discuss future military, political and economic cooperation. Obama is weighing how quickly to pull out U.S. combat troops and whether to keep a small force in Afghanistan to continue advising the national security forces and go after militants who threaten U.S. interests.
The attack happened at a patrol base in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province, according to a statement from the British defense ministry. The victim was identified as a soldier from 28 Engineer Regiment, attached to 21 Engineer Regiment.
“This is an extremely sad day for the Corps of Royal Engineers and everyone serving with Task Force Helmand,” said Maj. Laurence Roche, a task force spokesman. “Our thoughts are with the soldier’s family and friends at this time.”
British officials declined to provide further details, saying they were giving the dead soldier’s family a 24-hour grace period.
Ghairat Waziri, the Nahr-e Saraj district governor, said the attack also injured six British soldiers, along with at least one Afghan. He said the shooter was a recruit from the eastern province of Laghman who enlisted in the national army about a month ago.
The man opened fire on Afghan and British colleagues from a guard tower, according to Afghan officials. He was shot and killed by Afghan troops while trying to flee the scene, they said.
The motive for the attack is under investigation. The Taliban claimed responsibility in a statement posted on the militants’ website, but NATO officials say such incidents are often the result of personal grudges.
An Afghan army official in Helmand, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation, said the shooter had spoken to fellow service members about joining the Taliban-led insurgency. But Waziri said the man’s cellphone and sim card were missing, making it difficult to verify whether he had been in contact with militants.
A sharp increase in such attacks has sapped international public support for the war in Afghanistan, now in its 12th year. Britain announced last month that it will pull out 3,800 troops this year, nearly half of its current force in the country.
At least 61 foreign soldiers and contractors were killed last year in 45 insider attacks, also known as "green-on-blue" incidents. Two other cases remain under investigation, including the only known incident involving a woman serving in the Afghan police. In 2011, the toll was 35 deaths in 21 insider attacks.
German Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said such attacks would not undermine the North Atlantic Treaty Organization training mission or delay plans to hand over lead responsibility for safeguarding the country to Afghan forces in mid-2013.
“We see more and more that the Taliban is claiming that they are the reason for those attacks, that they are effectively driving a wedge between the Afghan national security forces and ISAF,” he said at a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday. “Let me make very clear that this claim is not correct.”
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