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2 U.S. troops slain in apparent Afghan insider attack

The gunman in uniform also kills three Afghan police officers in the shooting in Wardak province, which President Karzai has ordered elite U.S. forces to leave.

March 11, 2013|By Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times
  • Afghan national police check passengers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Maidan Shahr in Wardak province. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, infuriated by villager reports of forced detentions and mass arrests, last month gave U.S. special forces two weeks to vacate Wardak province.
Afghan national police check passengers at a checkpoint on the outskirts… (Anja Niedringhaus / Associated…)

KABUL, Afghanistan — A man in a police uniform opened fire on U.S. and Afghan soldiers Monday at a base in eastern Afghanistan, killing two Americans in what may be the latest insider attack by Afghans against allied security forces.

Afghan officials said three Afghan police officers also were killed in the shooting in Wardak, the strategically crucial province where President Hamid Karzai last month ordered U.S. special forces to cease operations.

U.S. military officials said it wasn't immediately clear whether the gunman was an Afghan police officer or impostor. Afghan officials said a gun battle ensued, with American soldiers firing back at the attacker.

Americans and Afghan service members were wounded, said a member of the Wardak provincial council, Ramazan Ali Rasouli. He added that the gunman was wearing the uniform of the Afghan Local Police, a rural paramilitary force trained by U.S. special operations troops.

Most of the U.S. service members in Wardak are special operations troops, and the shooting came on the day the elite forces were due to leave the province, under Karzai's orders, after allegations that they had abused civilians. U.S. officials believe the allegations were politically motivated, and Afghan investigators say they have found no evidence to support the claims.

For now the commandos remain in Wardak, and American officials have been pressing Karzai to back off his demand. U.S. commanders see the special forces' counter-terrorism campaign against Taliban insurgents there as key to maintaining security in Kabul, the capital, just a short drive away.

Speaking to reporters over the weekend, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said he was "working with [Karzai's] leadership to address the situation in Wardak and we would come back to him with a plan."

U.S. officials declined to speculate on whether Monday's shooting, which occurred about 11 a.m. at a U.S.-Afghan base in the remote district of Jalrez, was linked to the abuse allegations.

The attack followed the slaying Friday of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization civilian contractor by gunmen wearing Afghan army uniforms.

Insider attacks increased last year, with members of Afghan security forces killing 61 personnel from the U.S.-led NATO coalition, the vast majority of them Americans. U.S. military officials have said that some of the killings were carried out by Taliban infiltrators but that many were the result of hostility among Afghan soldiers and police toward coalition forces.

The attacks declined late last year after U.S. forces erected barriers between them and Afghans at shared bases and began posting armed troops to stand guard when American service members interacted with Afghans. But special forces units such as those in Wardak continue to conduct joint operations with Afghan troops and train members of the Afghan Local Police.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.

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