Rod Norland – New York Times Sept 30, 2012
Only two days after joint operations between American and Afghan forces were said to be returning to normal, a pitched battle broke out between the two allies, killing five people, two Americans and three Afghans, according to Afghan officials.
Details of what happened in the incident Saturday were scarce and contradictory, but both the governor and police chief of Wardak Province, just west of the capital Kabul, described a misunderstanding or argument leading to the incident, which occurred at a checkpoint of the Afghan National Army in the Said Abad district.
A statement issued Sunday by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said only that a suspected insider attack cost the lives of a foreign soldier and a civilian contractor; it did not identify their nationalities, although Afghan officials said they believed them to be Americans, who normally operate in that area.
The ISAF statement also said there were some casualties among Afghan National Army forces, but did not give further details, other than to say a joint investigation was under way.
Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman for the governor in Wardak, said the deaths came “after a clash ensued between two sides following a misunderstanding.” An Afghan official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to release details, said that a mortar shell had landed amid the American force, killing a soldier and a civilian contractor and injuring several others. The Americans thought it came from the Afghan National Army checkpoint and attacked it, killing several of the soldiers there, he said.
Provincial Police Chief Abdul Qayoum Baqizoi said the fight broke out when an Afghan soldier among seven soldiers at the checkpoint opened fire on the Americans; in the ensuing gun battle, three Afghan soldiers were killed, including the one who had first opened fire. “We still don’t have a clear picture of what happened,” Mr. Baqizoi said. He quoted one of the surviving Afghan soldiers as saying, “I heard some noise and verbal argument and suddenly heard the shooting and then one of the coalition soldiers threw a hand grenade so I fled from the checkpost and hid myself behind our Humvee.”
If confirmed as an insider attack, it would bring to 53 the number of coalition members killed in such attacks this year, compared to only 35 in all of 2011.
The wave of so-called green-on-blue attacks prompted the military to suspend joint operations below the battalion level without special approval from a general in charge of one of the five regional commands in Afghanistan.
Earlier, training activities between special operations troops and new Afghan Local Police recruits had been suspended because of several incidents involving the militia forces.
While those restrictions remain in force, on Thursday Pentagon officials confirmed that the number of joint operations at lower levels was growing because of expedited approvals by commanders.
A senior American military officer said recently that only a quarter of the insider attacks could be definitely linked to insurgent infiltration of the Afghan security forces, and another quarter were judged to have been caused by personal disputes. The rest, however, usually resulted in the death of the perpetrator and the causes were unclear.
Taliban insurgents routinely claim credit for such attacks, saying the infiltrator intended to be killed in the attack.
The Afghan military has stepped up its screening of recruits, and has dismissed hundreds in recent months because of suspicions about their identity or past activities.
In an apparently unrelated incident on Friday, Taliban insurgents attacked what ISAF called a “security meeting” in Ghazni Province between American special operations troops and Afghans, and injured an Afghan civilian with machine gun fire. “The Afghan and coalition troops treated and stabilized the man at the location, and fought off the attack,” ISAF said in a statement released Sunday.
Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting in Kabul.