KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans killed two American soldiers and wounded at least two others before dawn Thursday at a joint base in Kandahar province, in the latest deadly shooting of international forces by their Afghan partners, U.S. officials said.
The Pentagon said that two Afghan soldiers and a civilian accomplice — a literacy teacher — fired on the American service members from a guard tower at the Sang-e-Sar outpost in southern Afghanistan. U.S. troops then killed one of the Afghan soldiers and the teacher, but it was unclear whether the third attacker, who survived, was wounded or detained, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
A local police commander offered a different version of events, saying that an Afghan soldier and a civilian teacher first killed a fellow Afghan soldier at the Sang-e-Sar outpost before turning that soldier’s weapon on the Americans.
Masoom Khan, the police chief of Zhari district, where the shooting took place, said the attackers fled the scene and ran for 3.1 miles, “but the Americans sent a helicopter after them and shot them to death.” That account couldn’t be confirmed immediately.
The attack was the latest in a series of so-called “green-on-blue” shootings, in which members of the Afghan security forces have turned their guns on their Western counterparts. It follows the murders of two high-ranking U.S. officers last Saturday at an Afghan Interior Ministry compound in Kabul. Two other U.S. soldiers were killed Feb. 23 at a joint U.S.-Afghan base in eastern Nangarhar province by a man who was wearing an Afghan army uniform.
Despite the rising number of attacks on U.S. troops by Afghans, the Pentagon said it wasn’t considering a major change in its Afghanistan strategy, which hinges on coalition forces training 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers and handing over security responsibilities to them by the end of 2014.
“We are staying the course in the Afghanistan,” Little said, adding that he “strongly rejected” suggestions that the strategy is not working.
Since U.S. service members burned copies of the Quran nearly two weeks ago at a U.S. base outside Kabul, sparking widespread anti-American anger, Afghan security forces have killed six American troops. During the same period, no U.S. service member was killed by a Taliban attack or roadside bomb, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks troop deaths.
At least 76 coalition troops have been killed by the Afghans they were training, according to the Pentagon; half of those attacks have occurred since May 2009.
The motive in the Sang-e-Sar shootings wasn’t immediately clear. The Taliban said that one of their members was responsible for Saturday’s killings at the Interior Ministry, and they’ve claimed responsibility for other attacks by Afghan soldiers on coalition forces.
However, the U.S.-led coalition, the International Security Assistance Force, claims that most such attacks are carried out by Afghans who are frustrated with the behavior of their Western trainers, not by Taliban infiltrators.
“The incidents in the recent past where Afghan soldiers have wounded or killed ISAF members are isolated cases, and each one has its own underlying circumstances and motives,” said an ISAF spokeswoman, Lt. Lauren Rago. “There is no indication that the incidents are linked or part of any coordinated effort.”
Last week’s killings were linked to widespread anger among Afghans at the burning of copies of the Quran and other religious materials at the U.S. air base at Bagram on Feb. 20.
Police Chief Khan told McClatchy Newspapers that the motive of the attackers today wasn’t clear. “They could have been in contact with the Taliban,” Khan said. “It’s a possibility, but I can’t be sure.”
A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, Daulat Waziri, said the Afghan army had assigned a commission to travel to the base to investigate, but he didn’t have any details about the incident.