Confusion Surrounds Afghan Gunbattle that Killed 2 Americans, 3 Afghans

Posted September 30th, 2012 at 8:45 pm (UTC-5)
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NATO and Afghan officials have given conflicting accounts of a gunbattle that killed two Americans and three Afghan soldiers on Saturday, just days after U.S.-led coalition forces eased restrictions on joint operations with their Afghan allies.

Both sides said they were investigating the firefight that happened in the Sayd Abad district of central Afghanistan's Wardak province. U.S. officials said an American soldier and an American civilian contractor were killed in the incident.

NATO initially described the gunbattle as a suspected “insider attack,” in which Afghan security forces or insurgents disguised as them open fire on NATO personnel. But the NATO coalition's deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, later told a Sunday news conference that “insurgent” fire may have played a role in the fighting.

NATO also said the gunbattle began after a “short conversation” between Afghan security forces and coalition troops who were manning a temporary checkpoint nearby.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said the exchange of fire was the result of a “misunderstanding” between the two sides, an account that left open the possibility of an insider attack. Such attacks have escalated this year, killing at least 52 coalition personnel.

The coalition's top U.S. commander, General John Allen, suspended joint operations with Afghan security forces two weeks ago in response to the escalation, but he eased the restriction in recent days.

In an interview with U.S. television network CBS on Sunday, General Allen said he is “mad as hell” about the insider attacks. He said NATO forces “are willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we are not willing to be murdered for it.”

Allen said that just as homemade bombs became the signature weapon of the Iraq war, he believes that in Afghanistan, “the signature attack that we are beginning to see is going to be the insider attack.”

A Taliban leader told CBS the insider attacks are part of the militant group's new strategy of infiltrating the Afghan police and army.

Also Sunday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said insider attacks “do not diminish in any way the commitment” of the United States and its allies to train Afghan security forces to take security control of their country and allow coalition troops to leave by the end of 2014.