FOUR NATO SOLDIERS were shot dead today in the second such attack by suspected Afghan police in 24 hours, as officials detailed unprecedented damage from a Taliban assault on the base where Britain’s Prince Harry is deployed.
The shooting took place in Zabul province, part of the restive south where the more than 10-year Taliban insurgency is traditionally strongest, when NATO forces scrambled to a police checkpoint.
The US-led International Security Assistance Force said the incident was “suspected to involve members of the Afghan police”.
Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Hagen Messers said the shooting happened at around 1:00 am and it was still unclear whether the attacker “was an individual wearing a police uniform or definitely a policeman”.
US Army Major Adam Wojack said it was difficult to piece together what happened, partly because all six NATO troops who scrambled to an attack on the police checkpoint were shot — four killed and two wounded.
A provincial official said NATO forces came under fire in Mizan district after coming to reinforce the police, and that the Westerners retaliated, killing one policeman.
“Three to four other policemen have disappeared. At the moment, we don’t know where they have gone. We don’t know if they fled fearing arrest or if they are linked to the Taliban,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi denied that the militia planned the attack. “He was just an Afghan who did this out goodwill,” he said.
Today’s deaths took to 51 the number of Western soldiers killed by Afghan colleagues since the start of the year, in a growing trend that jeopardises NATO plans to train local forces to take over when they leave in 2014.
Two British soldiers were killed in similar circumstances on Saturday in the southern province of Helmand. The British defence ministry said they were shot by a man wearing the uniform of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) at a checkpoint.
This month, US special forces suspended training for about 1,000 recruits to the controversial unit, which fights in remote areas of the countryside. It has also been accused of corruption and violence towards civilians.
Afghanistan says it has arrested or sacked hundreds of Afghan soldiers for suspected insurgency links in a bid to stem the so-called insider attacks.
NATO on Sunday detailed unprecedented damage from a sophisticated, well-coordinated attack on one of the largest NATO bases in the country, Camp Bastion where Britain’s third in line to the throne is deployed.
Two US Marines were killed and several others wounded late Friday, when at least 15 attackers dressed in US Army uniforms, armed with guns, rockets and suicide vests stormed the airfield at Camp Bastion in Helmand.
The material losses were huge. Six US AV-8B Harrier fighter jets were destroyed and two significantly damaged, costing tens of millions of dollars, three coalition refueling stations destroyed and six aircraft hangars damaged.
The militia claimed the assault was to avenge a US-made film deemed insulting to Islam that has sparked deadly riots across the Middle East and North Africa.
Prince Harry was never in danger, officials said. Although the Taliban have vowed to kill him, its spokesmen told AFP the attack was to avenge the insult to the Prophet Mohammad.
“Prince Harry is there and if we’d caught him, we would have killed him but this attack was solidly in retaliation to the film,” Ahmadi reiterated Sunday.
But the attack raises major questions about how insurgents managed to penetrate such a massive logistics hub in the desert, home to 28,000 soldiers.
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a Western security official said it underscored how well-trained, precise and coordinated the insurgents had become.
“It’s a clear success for them. They managed to destroy a lot of aircraft in one of the most secure bases of the country,” the official said.
“Two years ago, such an attack would have been a catastrophe. Now it just shows that it’s time for us to leave Afghanistan.”
NATO is gradually withdrawing its 112,600 remaining troops. The Pentagon said last week that there are currently 77,000 US troops in Afghanistan.