KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan police officer turned his gun on NATO troops at a remote checkpoint in southern Afghanistan before dawn Sunday, killing four American service members, according to Afghan and international officials.
It was the third attack by Afghan forces or insurgents disguised in military uniforms against international forces in as many days, killing eight troops in all.
Recent months have seen a string of such insider attacks by Afghan forces against their international counterparts. The killings have imperiled the military partnership between Kabul and NATO, a working relationship that is key to the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces as international troops draw down.
Meanwhile, according to Afghan officials, airstrikes by NATO planes killed eight women and girls in a remote part of the country, fueling a long-standing grievance against a tactic used by international forces that Afghans say causes excessive civilian casualties.
Villagers from a remote part of Laghman province’s Alingar district drove the bodies to the provincial capital, claiming they were killed by NATO aircraft while they were out gathering firewood before dawn.
“They were shouting, ‘Death to America!’ They were condemning the attack,” said Laghman provincial government spokesman Sarhadi Zewak.
Seven injured females also were brought to area hospitals for treatment, some of them as young as 10 years old, said Latif Qayumi, the provincial health director.
NATO forces at first said that about 45 insurgents and no civilians were killed in the attack, but spokesman Jamie Graybeal stressed later that they took the charge of civilian deaths seriously and were investigating the allegations.
“Protecting Afghan lives is the cornerstone of our mission, and it saddens us when we learn that our action might have unintentionally harmed civilians,” Mr. Graybeal said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the airstrike and said a government investigation had been opened.
The recent violence also comes amid an international uproar about an Internet video mocking the Prophet Muhammad that many fear could further aggravate Afghan-U.S. relations. The video has sparked protests throughout the Muslim world, and the Afghan government blocked the YouTube site that hosts the video and its parent company, Google Inc., over the weekend in a move to prevent violent protests. So far, protests in Afghanistan have remained peaceful.
Details of Sunday’s attack were slow to come out because it took place in a remote area, said Mr. Graybeal, the NATO forces spokesman.
“The attack took place in the vicinity of an outpost in southern Afghanistan. It is my understanding that it was a checkpoint,” Mr. Graybeal said. International forces often work with Afghan police to man checkpoints as part of the effort to train and mentor the Afghan forces so that they can eventually operate on their own. The goal is to turn over all security responsibility for the country to the Afghans by the end of 2014, though numbers of NATO forces have already been reduced in many areas.
Mr. Graybeal said that one police officer was killed in the clash with NATO troops but that the other officers at the site fled and it was unclear if they were involved in the attack or not.
Two international troops were wounded and were receiving treatment, Mr. Graybeal said. He did not say how serious the injuries were.