Friday, August 10, 2012

Gunman in Afghanistan forces uniform kills 3 American troops in Helmand province

(CBS News) - A gunman wearing an Afghan uniform has shot to death three American troops in the southern Helmand province, according to the U.S.-led international military coalition in the country, known as ISAF.

Afghan sources in Helmand told CBS News Kabul bureau chief Fazul Rahim that the three slain troops were members of a U.S. Special Forces team overseeing the training and recruitment of Afghan local police. The sources said it was one of the police officers who opened fire on his mentors during dinner on Thursday evening. ISAF has not yet confirmed these details.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the ALP officer behind the shooting had fled the scene and joined the militant group. There were reports in Arabic media that the suspect was the commanding police officer of a local checkpoint, and had personally invited the U.S. Special Forces members to join him and his men for dinner on Thursday.

The shooting will likely bring the number of fatal "green-on-blue" incidents - in which Afghan security forces turn on their Western allies - to 24 over the last 12 months, according to ISAF. The military alliance has yet to confirm that the gunman behind Thursday's attack was an actual member of the Afghan forces, and not just a militant who had acquired a uniform to get nearer his targets. ISAF only counts attacks by serving members of the Afghan security forces as green-on-blue incidents.

Regardless, the attack brings to eight the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan this week, including one civilian working for the State Department.

If confirmed, Thursday's will have been the second green-on-blue attack this week. On Tuesday, two gunmen confirmed to have been Afghan National Army soldiers turned their weapons on NATO troops, killing a U.S. service member and wounding two others, ISAF confirmed Friday morning.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that shooting, which took place in Paktia province, eastern Afghanistan. The suspects escaped after the attack and a search was underway to track them down.

In a separate attack Wednesday morning, at least one suicide bomber walked up to a group of U.S. troops on foot patrol near the provincial council office in Kunar province, also in the east, and blew himself up, killing three American troops and one civilian working for the State Department's USAID program. There has been no indication that the bomber or bombers in this attack were wearing Afghan uniforms.

The Taliban traditionally steps up attacks in August, but the militant group's claimed success in recruiting rogue forces from the ranks of the Afghan army and police to turn on their Western allies, with whom they work and live very closely as ISAF ramps up its planned transition of security to Afghan forces, has fostered a lack of trust.

While the Taliban often claim they have infiltrated the Afghan security forces and are carrying out these attacks, CBS News reporter John Bentley reported in July that a U.S. Defense Department report maintains the attacks are not carried out by insurgents.

"Investigations have determined that a large majority of green-on-blue attacks are not attributable to insurgent infiltration of the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), but are due to isolated personal grievances against coalition personnel," the report said.

ISAF spokesman Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz told CBS News the latest attack is, "tragic, but doesn't reflect the security situation." He calls the shooting an "isolated incident".

"We're confident this won't stop operations," he said. "We trust our Afghan partners. But we're looking at how to mitigate incidents."

The Afghan security forces have established an eight-point vetting process. Katz explained that recruits require two letters from local elders as a character reference as well as biometric, medical and drugs checks, but ISAF is still working with the Afghan forces to improve this process.

Nonetheless, early in 2012, top U.S. commander Gen. John Allen ordered American units to select a "guardian angel" to watch over fellow troops, even as they sleep, at joint U.S.-Afghan bases and on joint operations involving live fire - a direct response to the mounting green-on-blue attacks.

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