- Associated Press - Thursday, October 25, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan — A man in an Afghan police uniform killed two American service members Thursday, in what appeared to be the latest in a rash of attacks on international forces this year by their Afghan partners.

The so-called insider attacks have stretched to the breaking point a partnership that U.S. and NATO officials consider a key part their exit plan — preparing the Afghans to take over responsibility for their country’s security in two years’ time.

They also have cast major doubts over the program, where Afghans and international troops are supposed to work “shoulder to shoulder.”

In Thursday’s fatal shooting, authorities had yet to determine whether the attacker was an Afghan police officer or an insurgent who had donned a uniform to get close to the Americans, said Air Force Maj. Lori Hodge, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The assailant escaped after killing the service members while they were out on a late-morning patrol in the southern Uruzgan province, Maj. Hodge said.

It was the second suspected insider attack in two days.

On Wednesday, two British service members and an Afghan police officer were killed in an “exchange of gunfire” in Helmand province, the British Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The Afghan officer was not wearing his uniform, and the statement said it was not clear who started shooting first.

Provincial government spokesman Abdullah Himmat said the assault happened near an Afghan police compound.

Before Thursday’s assault, 53 foreigners attached to the U.S.-led coalition had been killed in insider attacks from Afghan soldiers or police so far this year, according to the NATO coalition.

The Taliban have said they are using the attacks as a specific strategy to drive a wedge between the international coalition and the Afghans.

On Wednesday, ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday, they called for an increase in such assaults.

“Increase your efforts to expand the area of infiltration in the ranks of the enemy,” Mullah Mohammad Omar urged in a statement. “Jihadist activities inside the circle of the state militias are the most effective stratagem.”

The majority of international combat troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with trainers and advisers expected to remain longer.

But the spate of insider attacks has further undermined public support in NATO countries for the 11-year war and increased calls for earlier withdrawals.

The attacks have not been limited to members of the NATO-led international coalition. More than 50 Afghan members of the government’s security forces also have died this year in attacks by their own colleagues.

No other troops were wounded in the attack Thursday, Maj. Hodge said.

Also Thursday, an Italian soldier was killed in a firefight in Farah province in the west of the country, the Italian military said in a statement. Four other soldiers were wounded.

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