KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Eight American troops and a U.S. contractor died Wednesday after an Afghan military pilot opened fire during a meeting at Kabul’s airport — the deadliest episode to date of an Afghan turning against his coalition partners, officials said.
The Afghan officer, who was a veteran military pilot, fired on the Americans after an argument, the Afghan Defense Ministry said.
All nine killed were American, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information has not yet been made public.
The shooting occurred in an operations room of the Afghan air corps at the Kabul International Airport.
“Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started,” said Afghan air corps spokesman Col. Bahader, who uses only one name. “After the shooting started, we saw a number of Afghan army officers and soldiers running out of the building. Some were even throwing themselves out of the windows to get away.”
Five Afghan soldiers were injured. At least one Afghan soldier was shot — in the wrist — but most of the soldiers suffered broken bones and cuts, Col. Bahader said.
An Afghan pilot who spoke on condition of anonymity identified the gunman as Ahmad Gul from the Tarakhail district of Kabul province.
Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sahibi, the brother of the shooter, who was killed in the incident, said his brother had been battling financial troubles. Dr. Sahibi also said his brother had no ties to insurgents.
“He was 48 years old,” Dr. Sahibi told Tolo, a private television station in Kabul. “He served his country for years. He loved his people and his country. He had no link with Taliban or al Qaeda.
“He was under economic pressures, and recently he sold his house. He was going through a very difficult period of time in his life.”
Mr. Karzai condemned the shooting and offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims. He said those killed were trainers and advisers for the Afghan air force. The president ordered his defense and security officials to investigate the recent incidents to determine why they occurred.
It was the seventh time so far this year that members of the Afghan security forces, or insurgents impersonating them, have killed coalition soldiers or members of the Afghan security forces.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the gunman was impersonating an army officer and that others at the facility helped him gain access.
However, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said the gunman was an Afghan military pilot of 20 years.
“An argument happened between him and the foreigners, and we have to investigate that,” Gen. Azimi said.
Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks on government and military installations across Afghanistan:
• On April 18, an insurgent managed to sneak past security at the heavily fortified Afghan Defense Ministry compound in the capital and killed two Afghan soldiers and an officer.
• Two days before that, an Afghan soldier walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform. The blast, the worst before Wednesday’s shooting, killed six American troops, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter.
• On April 15, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters complex, killing the top law enforcement officer in the restive southern province.
• In northwest Afghanistan, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot and killed two American military personnel on April 4 in Faryab. The gunman was upset over the recent burning of the Quran at a Florida church, according to NATO intelligence officials.
• In February, an Afghan soldier who felt he had been offended personally by his German partners, shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others in the northern province of Baghlan.
• In January, an Afghan solider killed an Italian soldier and wounded another in Badghis province. The two soldiers were cleaning their weapons at a combat outpost when an Afghan soldier approached them with an M16 rifle and asked to use their equipment to clean his gun. The Italians saw that the Afghan soldier’s rifle was loaded and asked him to unload it, at which point the Afghan soldier shot the two Italians and escaped from the base.
Before the airport shooting, the coalition had recorded 20 incidents since March 2009 in which a member of the Afghan security forces or someone wearing a uniform used by them attacked coalition forces, killing a total of 36. It is not known how many of the 282,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in these type of incidents.
According to information compiled by NATO, half of the 20 incidents involved the impersonation of an Afghan policeman or soldier. The causes of the other 10 incidents were attributed to combat stress or unknown reasons. NATO said that there so far is no solid evidence — despite Taliban assertions — that any insurgent has joined the Afghan security forces for the sole purpose of conducting attacks on coalition or Afghan forces.
Lolita C. Baldor reported from Washington.
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