The step was taken “for obvious force protection reasons,” Allen said in a statement that capped a week marked by escalating distrust between NATO and Afghan forces. “We are investigating the crime and will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack. The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered.”
Fratricide has been a growing problem between Afghan soldiers and their foreign counterparts here. In the past, Western military advisers have been advised to operate cautiously after such attacks. But this incident marks the first time a commander has publicly withdrawn his personnel from their posts for fear of attacks by men in Afghan uniforms.
“This afternoon, two of our international counterparts were killed inside the compound of the ministry. An investigation into the incident has already begun,” said interior ministry spokesperson Siddiq Siddiqi in a statement. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force also confirmed the deaths of “two service members” in a statement.
Their bodies were discovered by another western official on the ground of a command center meeting room, at the heart of the fortified compound, according to Siddiqi, who said the specifics of the killings are still unclear.
The Taliban promptly claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the shooter was an insurgent infiltrator in the Afghans’ security forces.
At least three people were killed and dozens wounded on Saturday when protests turned violent in Kunduz, a province in northern Afghanistan. One crowd tried to storm the United Nations compound, but were resisted by armed guards.
“Although caused by legitimate defense, the United Nations also regrets the casualties among the demonstrators and expresses condolences to the families of those who lost their lives,” said the United Nations Assitance Mission in a written statement.
Four NATO service members have been killed in the last week, since the U.S. military burned a pile of Korans at a military base here, inciting five days of violent protests across Afghanistan. In the wake of that incident, the Taliban issued a statement asking Afghan soldiers and police to target their western counterparts.
Western military advisers were warned of an escalated risk of fratricide this week, and told to stay out of Afghan ministries unless their activities were “mission critical.” Even then, they were told to walk in groups of two more, and civilian advisers were asked to remain with an armed guard or soldier at all times.
Afghans have also been killed in protests. At least nine Afghans died Friday during demonstrations.
Six protesters and a police officer were killed in the western province of Herat when demonstrators tried to storm the U.S. Consulate, local officials said. At least one protester also was killed in Kabul as hundreds marched toward the presidential palace Friday afternoon, according to police, and another was killed in Baghlan province, north of the capital. At each demonstration, men shouted “Death to America” and demanded retribution.