U.S. And Afghan Toops Exchange Gunfire, Leaving Two Americans And Three Afghan Soldiers Dead

U.S. and Afghans Exchange Gunfire (Wall Street Journal, Sep 30, 2012):

KABUL—U.S. and Afghan troops turned their guns on each other over the weekend, leaving two Americans and three Afghan soldiers dead in an incident that highlighted the breakdown of trust following a recent spate of insider attacks.

Afghan officials said Sunday that a Taliban rocket landed near U.S. troops on patrol Saturday afternoon in eastern Wardak province. In response, they said, American forces—thinking they had come under attack from Afghan troops—fired on a nearby Afghan army post. The Afghan army returned fire, resulting in a fierce gunbattle that lasted about 10 minutes, officials said.

The U.S.-led coalition in Kabul acknowledged that insurgent fire was involved in the attack but didn’t confirm or deny whether U.S. forces opened up on the Afghan army first. “After a short conversation took place between [Afghan army] and [coalition] personnel, firing occurred which resulted in the fatal wounding of a [coalition] soldier and the death of his civilian colleague. In an ensuing exchange of fire, three [Afghan army] personnel are reported to have died,” a coalition statement read.

Saturday’s incident came days after the U.S.-led coalition said it was easing its suspension of full-scale cooperation with Afghan forces. The coalition said in mid-September it was curbing joint operations with Afghan forces on levels below battalion command after a U.S. video insulting Islam enraged Muslims across the world and led to attacks on U.S. missions in the Middle East.

So far this year more than 50 coalition troops—most American—have been gunned down by Afghan police or soldiers, or nearly one out of every seven coalition fatalities.

The weekend incident pushed U.S. military deaths in the Afghan war to 2,000, according to a tally by the Associated Press. At least 1,190 more coalition troops from other countries have also died, according to iCasualties.org, an independent organization that tracks the deaths, the AP said.Following the latest incident, Western military officials said there is no trust deficit between Afghan forces and their international allies. “If you visit the people in the field who are working together closely with thousands of interactions every day you see strong, trusting relationships resulting in cooperative operations delivering success,” the coalition’s deputy commander, British Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, said at a news conference Sunday.

The Taliban didn’t take responsibility for Saturday’s attack. They reported the incident on their website, saying that the Wardak gunbattle was for “reasons which are still not determined.”

The U.S.-led coalition is building up the Afghan army and police so it can pull out most foreign forces by the end of 2014.

But some analysts say insider attacks against international forces perpetrated by Afghan soldiers and police have already deeply damaged the military mission.

“It’s obviously concerning that the trust deficit has emerged and that even the smallest of incidents can set off a firestorm,” said Candace Rondeaux, a senior analyst based in Kabul for the International Crisis Group think-tank. “At this stage, with morale being so low within the Afghan security forces, each of these insider attacks opens the pathway for copycat attacks.”

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