Afghan employee kills CIA contractor

September 26, 2011

An Afghan man employed by the U.S. government opened fire in the CIA compound in Kabul, killing an agency contractor and wounding another, officials said Monday.

The shooting late Sunday was the latest jarring incident in a capital increasingly besieged by war as the U.S. military starts to withdraw troops.

American officials said Monday that the motive of the assailant was under investigation and offered no suggestion that the shooting was connected to a string of recent attacks in Kabul that have been blamed on insurgent groups.

The man who was killed was a CIA contractor who served in a support or maintenance role at the agency’s massive station inside the embassy compound, U.S. officials said.

He “was one of many who provided essential support for the maintenance of the U.S. Embassy complex in Kabul,” a U.S. official said. “He was a valued member of the team there and will be sorely missed.”

The second shooting victim, who was being treated for injuries that were not described as life-threatening, is also a CIA contractor, although his role at the CIA station was not disclosed. U.S. officials declined to disclose the identities of the victims.

A U.S. official said the gunman was “believed to have worked as part of the local guard force,” a position that gave him access to the compound as well as authority to carry a weapon.

The shootout in the CIA compound raised the possibility that even the most sensitive U.S. installation in Kabul isn’t immune from the type of deadly attacks that have turned this once relatively safe capital into a battleground.

“Slowly, steadily, the insurgent attacks are breaking down every sense of stability and progress in Afghanistan,” said a former U.S. official who left Kabul in recent weeks.

The recent flurry of bad news out of Kabul has bedeviled U.S. officials as they seek to make the case that the time is right to start withdrawing foreign forces and delegating more responsibility for security to the Afghans.

“A transition forced by political exigencies will never survive,” the former U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to express a view critical of the Obama administration’s Afghan policy. “Neither the Afghans or the U.S. is ready for a turnover, but no one wishes to acknowledge that.”

The assailant opened fire on the Americans about 9 p.m. Sunday in the compound of the former Ariana Hotel, which the CIA took over in 2002, officials said. Kabul’s CIA station is the agency’s largest. CIA veterans who have worked at the station said the number of agency personnel in Afghanistan has swelled to more than 1,000.

U.S. officials said no information had surfaced to suggest the attack was orchestrated by the Taliban or another militant group.

The Taliban issued a brief statement on the attack but did not assert responsibility.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin A. Sundwall said investigators believe the gunman acted alone. He said he could not provide additional details about the assailant or the victims. The Afghan assailant was fatally shot, Sundwall said.

An official briefed on the investigation said the Americans who were shot appear to have been “at the wrong place at the wrong time” and not specifically targeted. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity given the preliminary nature of the findings.

Ali Ahmad, a 32-year-old street vendor who works near the entrance to the compound, said that a few minutes after the shooting began, Afghan security personnel rushed to the entrance, only to be turned away. “They were not allowed to enter,” he said.

The shootout lasted no more than 30 minutes, but it took U.S. security personnel several hours to ascertain that there were no additional assailants.

U.S. military officials have grown increasingly worried about the threat posed by militants who have infiltrated Afghan security forces to launch attacks on NATO personnel.

In 2009, a suicide bomber posing as an informant penetrated the CIA base near Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, and detonated his explosives, killing the station chief and six other agency employees. It was the most lethal attack against the agency in decades.

Sunday’s shooting comes two weeks after a 20-hour attack on the U.S. Embassy by a team of gunmen who sprayed Kabul’s most heavily guarded diplomatic compound with grenades, rockets and small-arms fire. No Americans were killed or wounded in that attack.

The day after the attack, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Ryan C. Crocker, sought to play down the significance of the assault, saying it had been little more than a nuisance for his staff.

A week after the embassy attack, Kabul’s political establishment was rocked by the slaying of a prominent Afghan official assigned to broker a peace deal with the Taliban.

Former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani’s assassination has shaken the tenuous alliances in President Hamid Karzai’s government. It has also dimmed hopes that the Taliban and other insurgent groups will agree to a negotiated settlement with the government.

Miller reported from Washington. Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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