US Condemns Shooting of Officers in Afghanistan

Posted February 25th, 2012 at 2:55 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has condemned the killings of two U.S. officers in Afghanistan, calling the act “unacceptable.”

The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting Saturday, and said the attack was retaliation for the inadvertent burning of Qurans by NATO personnel – the incident a week ago that has inflamed passions throughout the country and led to rioting in which dozens of people have died.

In a phone call with his Afghan counterpart, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Panetta urged the Afghan government to take decisive action to protect NATO forces. A Panetta spokesman said Wardak had called to apologize for the incident.

NATO said the officers were killed inside a secure command center at Afghanistan's Interior Ministry in Kabul, and the official account indicated a member of the Afghan security forces turned his weapon on the Americans.

U.S. General John Allen, commander of all coalition forces in Afghanistan, ordered members of NATO's International Security Assistance Force to leave Afghan government ministries immediately, “for obvious force protection reasons.” Many NATO officers have been working as advisers with their Afghan counterparts, as part of the coalition's plan to gradually turn over control of the country's security.

Reports in Kabul say the shooting victims were a colonel and major, but there has been no official word on their identities.

A NATO spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, said a gunman “turned his weapon against” the Americans in the command center. There was no word on the fate of the gunman or whether anyone else was involved in the shooting.

“What we can confirm so far is that in the inner city of Kabul an individual pulled his weapon and opened fire on members of the International Security Assistance Force. We can confirm that two ISAF personnel were killed in this incident and at this present stage it is too early before the information process to the next of kin is done to talk about any further details of those who perished.''

Violence continued across Afghanistan Saturday, in a fifth straight day of protest over the burning of Qurans.

Hundreds of rock-throwing demonstrators attacked a United Nations compound at Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, and officials there said at least three people died and 47 were injured.

Since Tuesday, when reports first surfaced about the Quran-burning incident at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, authorities say at least 27 people have died in violent circumstances, including at least two other NATO service members whose killing was claimed by the Taliban.

U.S. President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have apologized for any desecration of the Muslim holy book, but that has done little to quiet the outrage in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. NATO is conducting a full investigation of the incident, in which defaced copies of the Quran reportedly were dumped in a pit where trash is burned.

The coalition is conducting a full investigation of the incident at Bagram but has not issued a detailed statement yet. Reports in Afghanistan say the Qurans involved had been defaced with extremist slogans and messages exchanged by prisoners given access to the holy books.

In an apparently separate incident, Afghanistan's defense ministry says six Afghan soldiers were killed and 16 were wounded Saturday while trying to defuse a roadside bomb in the Muqur district of western Badghis province.

(Pashto) Attaullah Neyazi, Laghman Provincial Health Director:

“We have received 20 wounded victims and from them two are in critical condition, and those two have been sent to Jalalabad hospital after they were given first aid treatment. Fortunately so far we don't have any cases of deaths reported to us.”

(Pashto) General Abdul Rahman Sarjang, Laghman provincial police chief:

“In the shooting from them (the protesters), two of the intelligence service members were wounded. One police officer was wounded and tens of police, Afghan national army soldiers and intelligence service members were wounded by stones thrown by them (the demonstrators).”