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9 Americans shot dead by Afghan pilot

KABUL -- A veteran Afghan military pilot said to be distressed over his personal finances opened fire at Kabul airport after an argument Wednesday, killing eight U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor.

Those killed were trainers and advisers for the nascent Afghan air force. The shooting, which also left five Afghan soldiers injured, was the deadliest attack by a member of the Afghan security forces, or an insurgent impersonating them, on coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or policemen. There have been seven such attacks so far this year.

The Taliban, who are currently staging their opening salvos of the spring fighting season, boasted that the gunman was a militant impersonating an army officer.

That claim did not seem credible, however. Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said the gunman was an officer who had served as a pilot in the Afghan military for the past 20 years. The gunman -- identified as Ahmad Gul, 48, of Tarakhail district in Kabul province -- died in an exchange of fire that followed his attack.

The gunman's brother insisted he was not a Taliban sympathizer. "He was under economic pressures and recently he sold his house. He was not in a normal frame of mind because of these pressures," said the brother, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sahibi. "He was going through a very difficult period of time in his life."

"He served his country for years," Sahibi told Tolo, a private television station in Kabul. "He loved his people and his country. He had no link with Taliban or al-Qaida."

The shooting took place at 10:25 a.m. at Kabul's airport. The gunman opened fire at a meeting in an operations room at the Afghan Air Corps following an argument with foreigners, Afghan defense officials said. It was unclear what the argument was about.

"Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started," said Afghan Air Corps spokesman Col. Bahader, who uses only one name.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the shooting and offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims.

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who leads the NATO training mission, called the deaths of nine trainers a "tragic loss."

NATO officials said the Taliban are quick to take credit for any attack that results in the death of pro-government forces. They say militants want to undermine trust between coalition and Afghan forces, who are increasingly partnered as the Afghans prepare to take the lead in securing the nation by the end of 2014.

Separately, two other NATO service members were killed Wednesday -- one by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan and another in an insurgent attack in the east. So far this month, 45 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan -- at least 40 of them American. The coalition death toll in April of last year was 33.

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