By DEB RIECHMANN
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan local policeman killed two soldiers with the NATO military coalition in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, the latest in a surge of insider attacks that are fracturing trust between Afghan forces and their international partners.
The shooting came a day after insurgents in the same region stormed a sprawling British base, killing two U.S. Marines and wounding several other international troops in an attack inspired by an anti-Islam film produced in the United States and the presence on the compound of a high-profile target, Britain’s Prince Harry.
NATO would not say exactly where the latest insider attack occurred or if the gunman was a bonafide Afghan policeman or an insurgent who infiltrated the force. Police inspector Hismatullah Baulatzia in the city of Lashkar Gah said the attack happened there, in the capital of Helmand province. It was not clear, he said, if the gunman was a member of the Local Afghan Police, a village-level fighting force overseen by the central government.
So far this year, 47 international service members have died at the hands of Afghan soldiers or policemen or insurgents wearing their uniforms. At least 12 such attacks came in August alone, leaving 15 dead and raising concerns that the country will not be able to take charge of its own security as planned by 2014.
The incidents have prompted the Afghan military to run deeper background checks on its troops, leading to the dismissal or detention of hundreds. Meanwhile, the U.S. has halted the training of about 1,000 trainees in the Afghan Local Police, one of several measures being taken to stem the attacks.
A U.S. official said that the two killed in Saturday’s insider attack were not American. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the countries involved hadn’t released the information yet.
The raid a day earlier took place in an area just to the northwest, NATO said. Nearly 20 insurgents armed with guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosive vests infiltrated the perimeter of Camp Bastion shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, starting a firefight that didn’t end until Saturday morning.
Jamie Graybeal, a coalition spokesman, confirmed that two U.S. Marines died in the attack. He said two insurgents wearing suicide vests took part in the assault, although he did not say whether they blew themselves up. In the ensuing battle, coalition forces killed 18 militants and captured a wounded fighter, who is now undergoing medical treatment. NATO is still assessing the damage to aircraft and buildings on the air field.
A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Harry, third in line to the British throne, was unharmed in the attack, which according to Britain’s Press Association took place 1 mile from the section of the complex where he was staying. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
The prince is serving a four-month combat deployment as a gunner on an Apache helicopter. Harry, who turns 28 on Saturday, is set to start flying Apache missions this week, and Britain’s defense ministry did not plan to cut short the deployment after the attack. This is his second tour in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s southern region has been a hotbed of the insurgency and attacks against foreign forces occur daily, although the Taliban have largely been routed in its capital and larger towns. Helmand remains an active battlefield between insurgents and NATO forces and for years has been the site of some of the war’s bloodiest engagements.
Although outnumbered by Afghan and foreign troops, the Taliban fighters are continuing their strikes to create fear and instability in Afghanistan and weaken the government. In addition to the near-daily bombings and attacks, Afghans have staged two anti-American protests against the film.
On Saturday, a few hundred of university students protested in the eastern city of Khost, shouting “Death to America” and burning an effigy of President Barack Obama. A larger demonstration was held on Friday in Nangarhar province, also in the east.
The Afghan government has indefinitely blocked video-sharing web site YouTube to prevent Afghans from viewing a clip of the anti-Muslim film, said Khair Mohammad Faizi, a spokesman for the Communication Ministry. He said it will remain blocked until the video is taken down. Other Google services, including Gmail, were also blocked in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday.
In other violence on Saturday, a police vehicle hit a roadside bomb during a routine patrol in Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, killing a police inspector and wounding two other policemen, Kandahar provincial spokesman Jawed Faisal said.
Twelve other civilians from two families were killed on Friday when their car hit a roadside bomb in the Gereskh district of Helmand province.
Separately, the Afghan parliament on Saturday voted to approve three of four individuals Karzai nominated to fill senior security positions.
The lawmakers approved Assadullah Khalid to lead the intelligence agency despite allegations that he has committed human rights abuses in the past. Khalid was the minister of border and tribal affairs and also has been governor of Kandahar and Ghazni provinces.
Human Rights Watch has reported allegations that forces under Khalid’s authority operated a private prison in Kandahar from 2005 to 2008 in which detainees were beaten and tortured with electric shocks. The New York-based group said Khalid also has been accused of corruption and high-level involvement in the country’s narcotics trafficking. Khalid has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
The Afghan parliament also approved former Interior Minister Bishmullah Mohammadi as defense minister and Mushtaba Patang, a former police chief in northern Afghanistan, as the new minister of interior.
Azizullah Din Mohammad, a former mayor of the Afghan capital Kabul, was not approved as Khalid’s replacement as minister of tribal and border affairs.