Two US troops have been gunned down by two Afghan soldiers and an accomplice, the latest of six US service members killed by their Afghan partners since the burning of Korans at a US base last week sent anti-US sentiment soaring.
The killings on Thursday come at a time when international troops have stepped up the training and mentoring of Afghan soldiers, police and government workers so the Afghans can take the lead and foreign forces go home.
The success of the partnership, the focus of the US-led coalition’s exit strategy, is threatened by a rising number of Afghan police and soldiers — or militants disguised in their uniforms — who are turning their guns on their foreign allies.
The latest victims were killed on a joint US-Afghan base in Zhari District of southern Kandahar Province by two Afghan soldiers and an Afghan civilian literacy instructor who fired from a sentry tower, according to US and Afghan officials. NATO forces shot and killed two of the assailants, apparently the soldiers, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
Last Saturday, two US military advisers were found dead with shots to the back of the head inside the Afghan Ministry of the Interior in Kabul. Two US troops were killed on Feb. 23 by an Afghan soldier during an anti-Western protest over the burning of Korans.
The US apologized for the burning, saying the Islamic texts were mistakenly sent to a garbage burn pit on Feb. 20 at Bagram Air Field.
However, the incident raised what had been simmering animosity toward outsiders to a full boil. Deadly protests raged around the nation for six days — the most visible example of a deep-seated resentment bred by what Afghans view as a general lack of respect for their culture and religion.
Afghans have staged demonstrations in the past over NATO airstrikes that have inadvertently killed civilians, deadly traffic accidents involving US military vehicles and night raids that Afghans say violate their privacy, disrespect women and lead to the detention of innocents. But desecration of the Muslim holy book struck at the heart of the Afghan people and their religion.
Thousands unleashed their anger in the largest display of anti-Americanism so far in a war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,779 members of the US military
The demonstrations, which left more than 30 people dead, were also a venue for war-weary Afghans to express their frustration that tens of thousands of international troops and billions of US dollars in foreign aid have not brought them peace or major improvements to their daily lives. Hundreds of Western advisers were told not to report to government ministries and a few are just starting to trickle back.
At the Pentagon, Little called the latest attack troubling but said the US intended to “stay the course” with its basic strategy for transitioning security responsibility to the Afghans.
Afghan animosity for foreigners does not necessary mean they all want the international forces to leave.
A UN survey released in January, before the protests, reported that 68 percent of Afghans surveyed said foreign troops should stay for the time being, compared with about a quarter who said they should leave immediately. The survey by an independent research firm conducted in-person interviews with 7,278 Afghans in October last year in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces, although some randomly chosen districts were inaccessible because of the threat from Taliban insurgents. It quoted a margin of error of 1.6 percentage points.