- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A rogue Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade into a group of international forces early Tuesday, killing three British troops, before fleeing, a military spokesman said. Four others were wounded.

It was the second time in eight months that an Afghan killed British troops working with local security forces. In November, an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers at a checkpoint in southern Helmand province, where Tuesday’s attack also happened.

President Hamid Karzai quickly sent a letter of apology to the British government. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, called for unity among international troops and the Afghan soldiers in the fight against the Taliban.

Such intentional attacks are rare but emphasize the difficulties in rapidly expanding the Afghan forces to take over responsibility for security from international troops. Critics have said a rushed schedule — aimed at allowing U.S. forces to begin drawing down by next year — makes it difficult to screen out insurgent sympathizers and also to train Afghan forces properly in military discipline.

The renegade Afghan soldier used a shoulder-mounted launcher to fire a grenade at British soldiers at around 2 a.m., Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zaher Azimi said.

The soldier escaped and is being sought, he said, adding that the motive of the attack was not yet clear. A joint coalition-Afghan team is investigating.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said he had been made aware of the incident, but declined to comment specifically until next of kin are informed.

Gen. Petraeus also expressed condolences and made his call for unity among security forces.

“We have sacrificed greatly together, and we must ensure that the trust between our forces remains solid in order to defeat our common enemies,” he said in a statement.

Afghan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi also expressed solidarity.

“The loss of any of our coalition partners affects us deeply,” Gen. Karimi said. “Our ongoing, partnered investigation will seek to determine how this event could have occurred, and we will prosecute those responsible.”

With about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, Britain is the largest contributor to the NATO force after the United States. Most of its troops are deployed in volatile Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.

In October 2008, a policeman threw a grenade and opened fire on a U.S. foot patrol, killing one soldier. The previous month, a policeman opened fire at a police station, killing a soldier and wounding three before he was fatally shot.

Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report.


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