Taliban sleeper agent kills 9 at Afghan base
US soldiers return to camp from a patrol in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. A bomb killed three NATO soldiers in southern Afghanistan, the joint force said Sunday, bringing to eight the number of foreign soldiers killed in the country in the most deadly weekend this year.« Read less
KABUL, Afghanistan – Like hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, he volunteered in the national army, ran drills in the mud, carried an automatic rifle, and worked alongside coalition mentors struggling against a hardcore insurgency.
But he was not one of them.
On Saturday, he walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in the eastern province of Laghman and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform.
Five NATO troopers, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the deadliest sleeper agent assault.
Four Afghan soldiers and three interpreters were wounded in Saturday’s attack.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and said the soldier was a sleeper agent who joined the army a month ago, a contention confirmed by an Afghan army official.
“Today, when there was a meeting going on between Afghan and foreign soldiers, he used the opportunity to carry out the attack,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email to reporters.
Attacks by insurgents donning security uniforms are a relatively rare but recurrent problem as NATO and Afghan forces work more closely together. Afghanistan’s security forces are also ramping up recruitment of Afghan soldiers and policemen so they can take the lead in securing their nation by the end of 2014, adding more than 70,000 police and soldiers last year in an effort to reach 305,000 troopers by the end of this year.
Afghan security forces are supposed to be vetted by past employers or even village elders, but in a country where unemployment is about 35 percent, the literacy rate is about 28 percent, and computerized record-keeping is a novelty, background checks are often rudimentary.
The explosion took place at 7:30 a.m., as many people on the base were beginning the morning shift and as NATO and Afghan service members conducted what military officials call a “key leader engagement” meeting, according to a NATO spokesman.
After the explosion, Blackhawk helicopters swooped down to carry the dead and wounded to hospitals.
Baz Mohammad Sherzad, the director for health in nearby Nangarhar province, said the bodies of four Afghan soldiers brought to a hospital in Jalalabad were too badly damaged to determine their military rank.
NATO declined to provide further identifying information about its soldiers killed in the blast, pending notification of their next of kin.
In the wake of such attacks, often it’s not clear whether the shooter was an Afghan trooper who turned on his Western counterparts spontaneously or an insurgent who donned a uniform to infiltrate the base and attack from inside.
On Friday, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters complex, killing the top law enforcement officer in the restive southern province.
Saturday’s funeral for police chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent law enforcement officials, was attended by at least 1,500 people, including Kandahar’s governor, the Afghan interior minister and the Afghan president’s half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai.
Earlier this month, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot dead two American military personnel tasked with helping train members of the country’s security forces in Faryab province.
In February, an Afghan soldier shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others in the northern province of Baghlan.
Until Saturday, the worse case of a sleeper agent attack was in November, when an Afghan border policeman shot to death six American soldiers before he himself was shot to death in the eastern province of Nangahar. The policeman had been in the force for three years and had accompanied American troopers for about three months when he opened fire on them.
The Taliban took responsibility for that attack.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report
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Students look on as U.S. Army SPC Erik Martin (R) cordons off the area after a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was found in a ditch near the Sheik MatiBoys School, in Qalat, in this April 16, 2011 handout photograph provided by ISAF Regional Command (South). Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul were alerted to the RPG by one of the students at the school during a visit to assess the school’s dining hall and kitchen. The area was closed off to traffic by PRT personnel, and the RPG was successfully detonated by an explosive ordnance disposal team. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Handout
The cook at the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat cuts onions in a tent as he prepares dinner for more than 400 students who live at the school, in thisApril 16, 2011 handout photograph provided by ISAF Regional Command (South). Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Zabul visited the school on Saturday to assess the dining hall and kitchen for a future renovation project. Picture taken April 16, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Handout
U.S. Army SGT Johnny Hoyos shows off his soccer skills to a student at the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, in this April 16, 2011 handout photograph provided by ISAF Regional Command (South). Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Zabul visited the school to assess the dining hall and kitchen for a future renovation project. SGT Hoyos is part of PRT Zabul’s security force. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Handout (AFGHANISTAN – Tags: MILITARY EDUCATION SPORT SOCCER)
U.S. Army soldiers Private First Class Carlos Ortiz (3rd R) and Specialist Kevin Vo (2nd R) provide security while members of Provincial ReconstructionTeam (PRT) Zabul assess the Sheik Mati Boys School’s dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, in Qalat, in this April 16, 2011 handout photograph provided by ISAF Regional Command (South). Ortiz and Vo are part of PRT Zabul’s security force. Picture taken April 16, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Handout (AFGHANISTAN – Tags: MILITARY EDUCATION SOCIETY)
In this photo provided by ISAF Regional Command (South), U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Barnett, explosive ordnance disposal team, runs a command wire after placing an explosive charge next to a rocket-propelled grenade found in a ditch near Sheik Mati Boys School, Saturday, April 16, 2011, in Qalat, Afghanistan.