CAMP SPANN, Afghanistan | A training exercise this month erupted into a deadly gunfight between Afghan and U.S. instructors, illustrating the problems officials face in preparing the Afghan soldiers and police officers for the drawdown of U.S. troops next year.
What’s more, the July 20 incident at the Regional Mass Training Center at Camp Shaheen, about 10 miles east of Mazar-e Sharif, was the second fatal shooting this month of Westerners by their Afghan counterparts.
According to Afghan army Lt. Col. Mohammed Naem, the media officer at Camp Shaheen, Afghan army recruits were participating in a training exercise when an argument erupted between an Afghan enlisted man named Jafar and a U.S. contractor who worked for Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI).
The men were skilled weapons trainers and friends, said Col. Naem, who works frequently with NATO public affairs personnel.
“The MPRI guy raised his fist and was yelling obscenities at [Jafar],” he said. “Jafar steps back, and his sidearm … accidentally falls to the ground.”
A U.S. soldier standing nearby witnessed the quarrel and, thinking Jafar was reaching for his pistol to harm the MPRI instructor, “unloads a magazine” into Jafar, killing him and wounding another, Col. Naem said.
An Afghan recruit saw the U.S. soldier shoot Jafar and, in retaliation, shot the soldier and another MPRI contractor, the media officer said. Other trainees rushed to the area and, seeing the Afghan recruit standing amid the carnage, drew their weapons and opened fire, killing the recruit.
In the end, two American contractors and two Afghans were killed, and one U.S. soldier and one Afghan were wounded.
However, Col. Naem’s account differs markedly from that of an eyewitness and from the official Afghan army report about the incident, both of which point to an attack by the Afghan weapons trainer.
According to the eyewitness, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, the MPRI contractor and the Afghan weapons trainer were unarmed, which is standard procedure. After their argument, Jafar left and got two loaded M-16 rifles from the Afghan trainees and an extra ammo clip, the eyewitness said.
Jafar then opened fired with one rifle, with the second M-16 slung across his chest, the witness said. He shot his civilian counterpart and another MPRI contractor, along with a U.S. soldier. The wounded soldier drew his sidearm and shot back at Jafar, but missed.
Two U.S. soldiers rushed to the scene and, assessing the situation, fired several M-16 rounds and killed Jafar, the witness said. In the crossfire, some Afghan and NATO troops also were wounded.
Brig. Gen. Sanaull Hag, acting commander of the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army, essentially confirmed the eyewitness account.
A week ago on Tuesday “an accident happened,” Gen. Hag said. “So we send some of our attorneys from the military court and also some mentors with them.”
He said the report’s conclusion about the “live-fire exercise” confirms that Jafar and the MPRI contractor were friends and had a good working relationship. Jafar was a trainer for the past year; the contractor had arrived two days earlier.
“They had argued about something,” Gen. Hag said. That argument led Jafar to shoot his American counterpart and the others before being killed himself.
Gen. Hag said he did not know the motive for the killings. “I don’t see any particular reason,” he said.
But the eyewitness noted that Jafar was holding prayer beads “in his shooting hand.”
MPRI had no immediate comment on the incident, said Amy Smith, vice president of communications with Raytheon Co., which owns MPRI.
An investigation is being conducted by military officials, said British Col. Stuart Cowen, a NATO spokesman in Kabul. The FBI is reported to be involved, too.
Earlier this month, in the southern Helmand province, three British soldiers were killed and four wounded by an Afghan soldier who then fled, presumably to join the Taliban.
Presently 20,000 Afghan soldiers are receiving training at six centers across the country, Col. Cowen said.