KABUL -- Four U.S. troops were killed Sunday at a remote checkpoint in southern Afghanistan when a member of the Afghan security forces opened fire on them, military officials said. The attack brought to 51 the number of international troops shot dead by their Afghan partners this year, including Marine Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr. of Oceanside.
The insider attack came on the day that NATO warplanes killed nine women in an eastern province, according to local officials, adding to long-festering outrage here over civilian casualties and prompting new protests. Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned the killings. The U.S.-led international coalition said the precision strikes killed "a large number of insurgents" but also acknowledged that that up to eight civilians had been hit and said it regretted any civilian deaths.
The attacks drew unusually strong criticism yesterday from the U.S. military's top officer, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who called the problem of rogue Afghan soldiers and police turning their guns on allied troops "a very serious threat" to the war effort.
Dempsey told the Pentagon's own news service, the American Forces Press Service, that the Afghan government needs to take the problem as seriously as do U.S. commanders and officials. "We have to get on top of this. It is a very serious threat to the campaign," Dempsey said.
The weekend's events touched the core of the U.S.-led war's problems. The Americans and their coalition partners are training Afghan forces to take over responsibility for the nation's security and enable the United States to pull out its combat troops by the end of 2014. Last month, Buckley, 21, and two other Marines were shot and killed by a teen who served as an aide to a local Afghan police commander.
The U.S. troops were killed Sunday near a NATO installation in Zabul province, at a checkpoint staffed by both foreign and Afghan forces. The Taliban website credited "one Afghan Mujahid," or holy warrior, with carrying out the attack. On Saturday, an Afghan gunman thought to belong to local police killed two British soldiers in southern Helmand province.
The weekend killings marked an escalation of insider attacks on international troops here that coincided with Muslim rage worldwide that was sparked by a film that defames the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. It was unclear, however, whether the shootings were connected to the unreleased "Innocence of Muslims" movie, snippets of which can be seen on the Internet.
Even so, the inflammatory movie, along with insider killings, have had a significant impact on U.S. military and Afghan army operations in some areas in the past three days. Top NATO officers ordered their field commanders to conduct risk assessments and determine whether to postpone or scale back some missions.
In Wardak Province, a restive area south of Kabul, some commanders postponed several major operations for three days. Because Afghan army commanders in Wardak Province were reluctant to patrol without support from U.S. troops, they also chose to cancel the planned missions.
The pause in Wardak Province had initially been planned for only two days, but U.S. commanders extended it after two U.S. Marines were killed in a Friday night attack by the Taliban on Camp Bastion, a British base. With AP