Two servicemen killed while protecting meeting with Afghan officials at patrol base in Helmand province
Two British servicemen have been shot dead by two Afghan policemen, the latest in a string of “rogue attacks” on foreign forces by the men who are supposed to be their allies in the fight against the Taliban.
The Ministry of Defence said that a Royal Air Force airman and a soldier from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards were killed on Saturday in southern Helmand province, when they were protecting a meeting with Afghan officials at a patrol base. The next of kin have been informed.
“What appears to have happened is that an Afghan police officer opened fire on a mentoring team working with the Afghan police,” Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“We don’t yet know what the motive was; we don’t yet know whether this was an insurgent who’d infiltrated the police or whether it was a policeman who simply had a grievance of some kind,” he said.
About one in every seven of the Nato soldiers who have died in Afghanistan this year were killed by Afghan forces.
The attackers ranged from an elite commando who turned his gun on a special forces mentor in a remote base, to a sergeant who shot dead two senior officers inside the interior ministry in Kabul.
The rate of these attacks, known to the military as “green-on-blue” incidents because of the colours that represent the Afghan forces and Nato-led coalition, has been rising even as foreign forces reduce their presence in Afghanistan.
In 2011 there were 35 soldiers killed in 21 attacks by Afghan forces. This year 22 soldiers have been killed in 16 separate attacks by Afghan forces, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said. There have been several other attacks that did not lead to any foreign soldiers’ deaths. A total of 414 members of UK forces have died since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said about a dozen of them had been killed by friendly Afghan forces in “green-on-blue” attacks.
At least four British soldiers are among this year’s dead. In March, Sergeant Luke Taylor, of the Royal Marines, and Lance Corporal Michael Foley, of the Adjutant General’s Corps, were shot dead by an Afghan soldier at the entrance to the UK headquarters in Helmand province.
The shootings are posing an increasing problem for both the Afghan government and its western supporters. The military strategy in Afghanistan is now focused on training the national army and police to fight the Taliban more effectively so foreign combat troops can leave by a 2014 deadline. But the trust essential to the mentoring missions is being steadily eroded by the attacks.
Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said the recruitment process of Afghan recruits needs to be re-examined as Britain moves towards the withdrawal of nearly all forces in 2015.
“There has been a real emergence of these horrific attacks by people dressed in friendly uniform. This tells us that we should look at the recruitment processes again,” he told Sky’s Dermot Murnaghan.
“My concern is that in 2015, when Britain is going to be running training regimes in Afghanistan, who is going to be ensuring the security of British personnel then?” he said.
The Afghan government has set up counter-infiltration units to root out possible Taliban agents or sympathisers. The Nato-led coalition has also assigned some soldiers as “guardian angels” to watch over other troops as they go about their day on joint bases or sleep at night.
But senior officers also argue not all killings are the work of insurgents, noting that Afghan forces often use weapons to resolve personal disputes or settle grudges.
Hammond, in a comment that may prompt claims he is reverting to cultural stereotypes, then added: “Remember, this is a society where people traditionally settle grievances by violence.”
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, and named the shooters as Mohammad Wali and Sayed Wali, but the insurgent group sometimes takes credit for actions it wishes to be associated with but has not carried out.
The attackers had been in the police for nearly two years; one came from Helmand and the other from the east, where insurgents have a strong presence, said Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He confirmed that the shooter who survived was captured late on Saturday night, and was being questioned, but declined to comment on whether either attacker had Taliban links. The provincial government has also sent a delegation to investigate the killing.
In a reminder that the rogue shooters are still a tiny – if deadly – minority, a third Afghan policeman fired at the attackers, said a provincial police spokesman, Fareed Ahmad.