KHOST, Afghanistan - A member of an Afghan militia promoted by the US military to protect rural villages drugged his colleagues and killed at least nine of them as they slept Friday, the third deadly episode involving the irregular guard force in March.
The killings added to concerns about the militia, known as the Afghan Local Police. Touted by US military commanders as a way to give Afghans a larger stake in battling the insurgency, the local police program has been assailed by rights advocates and many Afghans as bringing former Taliban and criminal elements into positions of armed authority.
Friday’s killings took place at a local police command post in Paktika Province, an area of eastern Afghanistan thick with Taliban and allied insurgents.
The assailant, identified as Assadullah, who like many Afghans goes by a single name, laced food served at the post with crushed sleeping pills on Thursday night, said Dawlat Khan Zadran, the police chief of Paktika.
The assailant then waited a few hours for the drugs to take effect and sometime after midnight turned his AK-47 assault rifle on his fellow local police.
At least nine Afghan local police were killed at the post in the remote Yahyakhel district of the province, Zadran said. The suspect escaped in a pickup truck with most of the weapons from the post.
Officers from the national police force have since arrested two of the suspect’s brothers and the man who recommended that Assadullah be recruited into the local police, Zadran said.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Assadullah had rejoined the insurgency’s ranks after infiltrating the command post a few days ago. He referred to the assailant by what appeared to be a nom de guerre, Mujahid Sanaullah.
The Taliban often take credit for attacks by members of the Afghan security forces, especially when coalition service members are slain.
US and Afghan officials say they do not believe most attacks on the coalition by Afghan army and national police are the work of Taliban infiltrators.
But there is less certainty about Taliban infiltration in the local police forces, among other problems.
A US military report released in December found that some members of the force have engaged in illegal taxation, carried weapons outside their villages, and committed assault. The report was a response to a critical study of program by Human Rights Watch.
Still, the December report concluded that the US military leadership thinks the Afghan local police have generally been effective.
But problems with the local police have continued.
Another Afghan local policeman allowed Taliban to enter his guard post March 7 and kill nine of his fellow Afghan local police in the southern province of Oruzgan.
On Monday, an Afghan local policeman shot and killed a coalition soldier in Paktika province, the same province where Friday’s killings took place.
The province borders Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area, a hub for Islamist militancy in South Asia.
Coalition losses, meanwhile, continued to mount, with NATO saying Friday that one of its service members was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan and another in an insurgent attack.
NATO provided no additional details.
The number of coalition deaths here this year stands at 94, according to icasualties.org, an independent website that tracks deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.