Suspected Afghan army trainer opens fire on fellow instructors

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2010; 12:47 PM

KABUL -- A suspected Afghan army trainer on a shooting range in northern Afghanistan opened fire on his fellow instructors Tuesday, killing two American civilian trainers and one other Afghan soldier before being killed himself, NATO officials said.

On a day when world diplomats gathered in Kabul for an international conference intended to further a transition to Afghan security responsibility, the violence showed the risks and setbacks that can come with a rapid expansion of Afghan military forces. The shooting, at a weapons training base near the city of Mazar-e Sharif, comes just one week after another rogue Afghan soldier killed three British soldiers at a base in Helmand province.

"It's a great tragedy," said British Col. Stuart Cowen, a spokesman for the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, the command responsible for building up the Afghan security forces.

Few details were immediately available about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and NATO officials said they had started a joint investigation into the incident with the Afghan Ministry of Defense. The name of the contractor that provided the U.S. trainers was also not disclosed.

"We wish to express our deepest sorrow for the deaths of our colleagues in this tragic event today," Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said in a statement.

The shooting, which also wounded one NATO soldier and one Afghan soldier, took place on a range as part of a routine weapons proficiency class at the Regional Military Training Center's eight-week Afghan army basic training course at Camp Shaheen. Across the country, about 20,000 Afghan National Army trainees are currently involved in such a course, NATO officials said.

The rapid growth of the Afghan army and police is a top priority for both NATO and the Afghan government as a way to pave the way for the departure of foreign troops from the country. There are currently about 238,000 Afghan soldiers and police.

NATO officials said that over the past two to three years, there have been fewer than 10 incidents of rogue Afghan security forces attacking their NATO partners.

"We have to keep that in perspective," one NATO official said.

The killings could add greater pressure to tighten the vetting process for Afghan recruits. An Afghan who wants to join the army now must provide a government ID card, pass a medical screening, receive a letter of guarantee from two people in his village, such as a tribal elder or local government official, take a drug test and submit to biometric screening. If he matches a biometric database of previous insurgent activity, the soldier is kept out of the course, according to NATO.

"The security process is in place," the NATO official said. "It's not infallible."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company