Afghan driver kills Spanish police trainers, interpreter in latest infiltration attack

By Christopher Bodeen, AP
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Afghan driver kills Spanish officers, interpreter

KABUL, Afghanistan — A driver for the Spanish police contingent in Afghanistan opened fire during a training exercise Wednesday, killing two Spanish officers and their interpreter in what appeared to be the latest in a series of attacks by infiltrators linked to the insurgency, officials said.

The assailant was shot and killed by Spanish officers who had been conducting a police training course at their base in Badghis province, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.

“I can’t say if the Taliban were behind this or not. But what is clear is that it was a premeditated attack. The person who opened fire knew exactly what he was doing. Therefore, this was a terrorist attack,” Perez Rubalcaba said at a news conference in Madrid.

He said the shooter was the longtime driver of one of the slain Spaniards and was not actually a policeman himself. The man had worked with the Spanish police unit since it arrived in Afghanistan five months ago, he said.

The officers, both age 33, were members of the Civil Guard, a paramilitary unit under the command of the Interior Ministry. Their translator was a Spanish citizen of Iranian origin, the ministry said.

Following the shooting, hundreds of angry men gathered outside the walls of the Spanish camp, chanting religious slogans and hurling stones. Shots were fired, although it wasn’t clear who was doing the shooting.

Provincial health director Abdul Aziz Tariq said 25 people were wounded in the protest, most of them by bullets, with two in critical condition. Seven of those hospitalized were under 18 years old but their wounds were not life threatening, he said.

Fences around the base were torn down and fires set. At least one truck was torched. NATO said it was monitoring the demonstration.

“According to all of our reports, ISAF soldiers did not open fire on civilians,” spokesman James P. Judge said, using the acronym for the International Security Assistance Force.

Provincial government spokesman Sharafuddin Majidi said shots had been fired both from the base and toward it, adding that people in the crowd appeared to have deliberately incited the violence. He said police had restored order by mid-afternoon.

NATO said the shooting of the Spanish officers came during a “mentoring session” between its forces and the Afghan police.

Intentional shootings by Afghans against coalition partners are a growing concern for the tens of thousands of foreign forces spread across Afghanistan.

Two American civilians and two Afghan soldiers were killed last month when an Afghan soldier who trained others at a base outside the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif started shooting during a weapons exercise.

Also last month, an Afghan soldier killed three British service members with gunfire and a rocket-propelled grenade in the dead of night.

The soldier fled after that attack, leaving his motive unclear. But the Taliban claimed he was a militant sympathizer taken in by insurgents after the assault.

In April, a U.S. army trainer was killed by a suicide bomber who gained entry to an Afghan base after stealing an Afghan army uniform, while last November, an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers at a checkpoint in Helmand.

Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, head of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, told reporters Monday that coalition and Afghan forces kept a sharp eye out for possible infiltrators at the recruitment, training and deployment stages.

“So people are staying vigilant. And we are aware of the intent by people to try to do that type of infiltration,” Caldwell said.

Just three weeks ago, coalition forces detained a recruit at a police training site in the western province of Herat who was discovered to be a Taliban infiltrator from Pakistan.

The attacks come as the international coalition is accelerating training of Afghan soldiers and policemen so they can ultimately take responsibility for securing and defending the nation.

The speed with which Afghan security forces are growing has raised concerns about infiltration and the overall professionalism of the forces. The Afghan National Army has reached its 2010 goal of recruiting 134,000 soldiers, while the Afghan police have over 104,000 officers serving in uniform, and it is planned to expand both services further.

Also Wednesday, Australia said one of its soldiers was among two international troops killed in fighting Tuesday in the volatile south. The other was an American.

A total of 49 foreign troops have been killed in Afghanistan this month, including 31 Americans, according to a count by The Associated Press. Australia, which has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, has lost a total of 21 soldiers over the years of fighting in the country.

With about 90 percent of an additional 40,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan — bringing the total to about 120,000 — the coalition has considerably ramped up pressure on the Taliban.

It said more than 2,800 operations had been launched over the past 90 days, resulting in the death or capture of more than 365 insurgent leaders and 2,386 ordinary fighters.

Operations were up 83 percent in July from the same month last year, NATO said. July 2010 was the deadliest month for U.S. troops since the 2001 invasion, with 66 killed.

Afghan and international forces have killed an estimated 40 Taliban fighters east of the Afghan capital since Friday as part of operations to provide security ahead of parliamentary elections next month, NATO said.

Associated Press writers Daniel Woolls in Madrid and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

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