KABUL — Before the Afghan police officer named Asadullah killed eight of his colleagues and one civilian Friday morning, he spent years as a Taliban fighter, targeting men he called infidels and crisscrossing the Pakistani border with teams of insurgents.
But his first collaboration with the insurgency was the one his neighbors still find the most egregious: He granted the Taliban permission to kill his father, Ehsanullah.
Afghan and Western officials said they uncovered those details in conversations with Asadullah’s family and friends after the new police recruit and Taliban sleeper agent apparently drugged his colleagues and shot them in the head while they slept.
The incident is one of the bloodiest cases of fratricide in the 10-year-old war and comes amid a surge in attacks by rogue Afghan army and police personnel on their Afghan and American colleagues. At least 16 NATO service members have been killed by men in Afghan army and police uniforms since January, an increase compared with the same period in previous years.
The attacks have sparked new tension among the troops waging war in Afghanistan and have raised concerns about the apparent ease with which the insurgency is able to infiltrate Afghan security forces. But Asadullah’s path to Friday’s attack is a more intimate betrayal than most, a story of the Taliban’s ability to turn members of the same tribe against one another, and to pit son against father.
About four years ago, the Taliban began plotting the assassination of Asadullah’s father, who was a government official and religious leader in the Yayakhil district of eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province. Ehsanullah, who like his son and many other Afghans used only one name, had long preached against jihad, and his public opposition to the Taliban in an insurgent-heavy region made him an obvious target, according to Haji Mohammed, the district governor, who said he is close to the family.
Before the Taliban finalized its assassination plans, fighters met with then-18-year-old Asadullah. He had already begun talking about the value of defeating U.S. and Afghan forces and rebelling against his father’s politics, officials said. Some local residents considered Asadullah a peripheral Taliban member from his early teenage years. When insurgents informed him of the plans to kill his father, Asadullah “granted them approval,” according to a U.S. official who had been briefed by Afghan security and intelligence personnel.
After Ehsanullah was killed, “we told [Asadullah] that his father was a martyr, but he refused to accept that. He said his father was vile. I could tell then that he was a traitor,” Mohammed said.
The Afghan government compensated the family for the father’s loss by sending Asadullah to Mecca — a common reparation for relatives of assassinated government workers and fallen troops.
Not long after he returned from the pilgrimage, Asadullah became a full-fledged insurgent, spending weeks in Quetta and Wana, both considered Taliban havens in Pakistan, according to Afghan security officials. He fought for three years, vanishing for long stretches before returning for brief stays with his five younger brothers. Two of those brothers were detained for interrogation after Friday’s attack.
“He rose to become a local Taliban commander,” said Abdul Ghani Paktin, a member of the provincial council. “He carried out attacks on Americans and the local government.”
About three months ago, Asadullah resurfaced and told village elders, at least two of whom were relatives, that he had given up on the Taliban and that he was ready to defend his tribe from insurgents. Afghan intelligence officials said Asadullah managed to participate in the government’s program to reintegrate Taliban members thanks largely to the support of local officials. One of those officials, a top police commander named Mohammed Ramazan, would later be found among Asadullah’s victims, along with two of Ramazan’s sons.
“He said, ‘I repent. I will never do what I did again. I am tired of fighting,’ ” said Haji Mohammed, recalling Asadullah’s promises.
Some were suspicious.
“The whole time I always knew he was an enemy of Afghans and Muslims,” Paktin said.
But three elders vouched for Asadullah’s sincerity, meeting the Afghan Local Police’s requirement and allowing him to become a member of the force.
The ALP is the only branch of the Afghan security forces that assigns its recruits to work in their native districts, using familial and tribal connections to present a united front against the insurgency. It’s a force that the U.S. military calls essential — with American support, it is due to triple, from 10,000 men to 30,000, in the next two years.
“The Taliban are very threatened by the ALP because the significant terrain, the key terrain in the counterinsurgency, is the human terrain. And the Afghan Local Police deny the human terrain to the Taliban,” Marine Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, told Congress last month.
But recruiting local men in districts such as Yayakhil, still dominated by the insurgency, presents one of the program’s biggest challenges.
“Most people in Yayakhil had some ties to the Taliban in the past,” said Daulat Khan Zadran, the Paktika police chief.
ALP recruiters often find themselves trying to discern whether former insurgents such as Asadullah are genuine about their conversion or simply looking for an opportunity to attack American or Afghan personnel. Four days before Asadullah’s attack, another ALP officer fatally shot a U.S. soldier in Paktika.
Asadullah received about 20 days of training in the ALP, probably from Afghans and Americans, officials said. He then moved to a small outpost with about two dozen officers. After years of hunting men in Afghan uniforms, he was now living among them in a barracks with four other police officers. Armed with a newly issued AK-47, he waited about a month before carrying out his attack.
Early Friday, after lacing his colleagues’ meal with sleeping pills, Asadullah apparently picked up that rifle and killed four men in one barracks and five in another. One of the dead was a civilian who happened to be on the base. Asadullah fled the outpost in a police pickup with two accomplices, 10 rifles and 25 magazines.
Within hours of the attack and Asadullah’s disappearance, a local council met to decide how his family should be punished. Its members voted to destroy properties belonging to Asadullah’s brother, cousin and grandfather. Villagers rushed to set them aflame.
“The tribe wanted to send the message that this kind of killing is not acceptable,” Paktin said.
Meanwhile, NATO and Afghan forces worked to track down Asadullah. On Sunday morning, officials said they had located him. And they were planning their final retribution.
“We know where he is,” said Ali Shah Hamidzai, the nation’s top ALP commander, “and we are going to kill him.”
Special correspondent Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.