Attacker in Afghan Uniform Kills 3 U.S. Soldiers

Attacker in Afghan Uniform Kills 3 U.S. Soldiers


August 10, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan police officer shot and killed at least three American Special Forces soldiers on Friday after inviting them for a meal at a check post in southern Afghanistan, an Afghan official said, in what appeared to be premeditated killings of American soldiers by one of their Afghan allies.

The American command in Afghanistan, which functions alongside the NATO-led coalition, issued a terse statement saying that three soldiers were killed by a man in an “Afghan uniform” — standard phrasing used by military authorities here when a member of the Afghan security forces kills a coalition service member.

Details of what took place in Sangin District of Helmand Province remained sketchy, and Afghan and coalition investigators were still trying to piece together how the shooting unfolded as dusk approached. A dawn-to-dusk fast is being widely observed in Afghanistan as Muslims observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Muhammad Sharif, the governor of Sangin, said a police commander had invited the Special Forces soldiers to eat at his check post. He then shot them when their guard was down and fled, Mr. Sharif said. He put the number of dead Americans at four.

The coalition said the soldiers may have not arrived for the meal or any other gathering when the shooting took place. But the coalition said it could not provide additional details until families of the deceased had been notified and investigators completed their inquiry.

A prominent tribal elder in the area said he had been told by local authorities that his son, Assadullah, 25, a police officer, was suspected of carrying out the killing at a check post in the village of Khanan, which lies near a base used by American Special Forces soldiers.

The elder, Shamsullah Saharai, said in a telephone interview that his son had worked with the Special Forces soldiers for four years, and that he had not heard from him in six days, nor was he currently able to reach him.

The killings by Afghan forces of their coalition counterparts have intensified in recent years in Afghanistan, where the military’s nomenclature for such violence — it calls them “green-on-blue” killings — has entered widespread usage. The latest episode brings the total number of coalition service members intentionally killed this year by Afghan forces to 34 in 25 attacks. In 2011, a total of 35 were killed in 21 “green-on-blue” attacks.

Coalition and Afghan officials say that much of the violence is because of personal disputes between the Afghans and their foreign partners, not the result of Taliban infiltration.

But the possibility that Friday’s killing was preplanned raised the prospect of a deepening threat, either through internal plotting against coalition forces among some Afghan soldiers and police officers or Taliban infiltration.

In a separate episode on Friday, a fourth coalition service member was killed in southern Afghanistan in what the coalition described as an “insurgent attack.” The coalition, in a statement, did not specify the dead service member’s nationality or provide any other details. Helmand, a province where American Marines, British soldiers and the Afghan Army have fought for years to clear out the Taliban, saw additional violence on Friday when a car hit a hidden bomb around 9 a.m. in the district of Musa Qala, the police said. At least six people were killed.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the roadside bombing in a statement issued by his office later in the day, expressing his sympathies to the families of those killed. He did not comment about the Sangin checkpoint attack.

The killing of the soldiers there followed another attack on Wednesday, when three NATO soldiers and an Afghan civilian were killed by two bombers who detonated suicide vests as soldiers were patrolling near the provincial council’s office in the eastern Kunar Province.

An Afghan an employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan.