KABUL — An Afghan police officer opened fire Monday on a gathering of Americans and Afghans in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least two members of the U.S. Special Operations forces and five Afghan troops and police officers, officials said.
The assault, one of the deadliest so-called “insider attacks” this year, occurred in Wardak province during a meeting between U.S. and Afghan troops ahead of a joint mission, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
The attacker seized a machine gun in the back of a police pickup truck and opened fire on the U.S. and Afghan forces in a police compound, according to a senior Afghan military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the incident. It was unclear whether the gunman was a Taliban recruit or acting out of personal enmity. The attacker was reported killed in the ensuing firefight.
In addition to the men killed, about a dozen U.S. and Afghan troops were injured, including the district police chief, officials said.
The attack came a day after a tense President Hamid Karzai accused the American military of colluding with the Taliban to justify a continued U.S. presence in the country. Karzai’s comment that “the Taliban are serving the foreigners” complicated an already tense weekend visit from U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, whose trip was marred by the Afghan president’s decision to call off a key prison handover from U.S. to Afghan forces and the cancellation of a joint news conference. The news conference was called off at U.S. insistence — ostensibly due to security concerns.
Monday’s attack could further threaten the fragile relationship between the two nations. U.S. officials have long advocated the small-footprint approach exemplified by teams of Special Operations forces as a way forward during the American military withdrawal, but Karzai has been critical of those teams, particularly in Wardak.
Responding to complaints from civilians, Karzai last month expelled U.S. Special Operations forces from Wardak, accusing them of “harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people.”
The troops were due to leave the province Sunday, according to a presidential decree. It was unclear why they were still operating there Monday, but one Afghan official said the two sides were working on a compromise.
Monday’s attack occurred in the Jalrez district of Wardak, a volatile part of the province from which U.S. troops had almost entirely withdrawn.
Mohammed Sharif and Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.