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Saturday, August 18, 2012 - Page updated at 05:30 p.m.

'Insider' shootings on the rise in Afghanistan

By Laura King
Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — No sooner had freshly minted Afghan policeman Mohammad Ismail been issued his service weapon than he turned it on his U.S. mentors.

The killing of two Americans and the wounding of a third Friday by the new recruit to an Afghan village police force brought the number of U.S. forces killed in "insider" shootings — attacks by Afghan allies on Western troops — to nine in 11 days.

Another such shooting took place hours later in nearby Kandahar province, but did not result in any deaths except that of the assailant, an Afghan soldier. Two NATO troops were wounded in that attack, military officials said.

The fatal shooting occurred in Farah province, bordering Iran. Ismail, a man in his 30s who had joined a village militia known as the Afghan Local Police five days earlier, was about to take part in his first weapons-training session, Afghan officials said. Instead, he opened fire on the U.S. troops.

Afghan authorities said Ismail, who headed a 10-man squad of recruits, also killed a member of the Afghan national police before being killed by return fire. Another member of the Afghan Local Police was wounded.

Military officials declined to identify the branch of service of the two dead Americans, but U.S. special-operations forces are the principal mentors of the Afghan Local Police, a self-defense force set up with U.S. backing to help keep the Taliban from taking over rural communities.

Friday's shooting, which came as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was drawing to a close, took place in the village of Kanesk, said Aqa Noor Kentoz, Farah's provincial police chief. He said Ismail's attack began moments after he was given the gun, as the recruits and their U.S. mentors were gathered on a firing range.

Insider shootings have risen sharply this year. Last week there were three assaults that killed seven U.S. troops, including six U.S. Marines.

The U.S.-led alliance says it's too soon to tell what's behind the attacks. The most likely explanations: Either the Taliban are increasingly infiltrating the Afghan police and army, or relations between Afghan and U.S. forces are turning toxic — or both.

"There's no positive spin on this," said Andrew Exum, an analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for a New American Security who has advised the top U.S. generals in Kabul. He said the number of Afghan insider attacks has risen beyond what can be explained as isolated incidents.

The coalition has downplayed the attacks as anomalies and mostly a result of personal grievances, even as their numbers soared from 11 last year to 29 in 2012.

The NATO force says only a small percentage of insider attacks are carried out by shooters planted by the Taliban. But a message attributed to Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, boasted Taliban fighters had "cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy."

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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