KABUL, Afghanistan — Two attacks by Afghan police officers who were collaborating with the Taliban claimed the lives of 11 police officers in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, officials reported. News of the so-called insider attacks came as authorities were still grappling with the assassination one day earlier of a U.S. general by an Afghan soldier.
In one attack, a police officer secretly working for the Taliban poisoned five colleagues at a compound in southern Afghanistan, then invited insurgents inside to shoot the stricken officers to death and steal their weapons, the officials said.
Gulab Khan, the provincial head of criminal investigations, said the other assault targeted a national police checkpoint on the outskirts of Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan province, where Taliban fighters killed the guard on duty, then executed five others as they slept. One officer, believed to be in league with the insurgents, escaped with the militant fighters, according to Doost Mohammad Nayab, the spokesman for the provincial governor.
Khan said the killing of Afghan forces by their colleagues was an increasingly urgent problem as the U.S.-led foreign forces prepare to wind down their presence in the country’s 13-year war, leaving the Afghan government to fight the insurgents on its own.
“If we have local police who are easily switching to the Taliban, soon the aftermath will be grave and will pose a big threat to the Afghan government,” he said.
The assaults on the police came a day after a devastating attack by an Afghan soldier on high-ranking U.S. and Afghan officers that killed Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the first U.S. Army general killed in an overseas conflict since the Vietnam War. The soldier opened fire on the officers at the country’s premier military academy on the outskirts of Kabul, wounding at least 15 others before he was killed.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense identified the soldier as Rafiullah, from the Jani Khel district of Paktika province, an insurgent hotbed in eastern Afghanistan. The ministry said Rafiullah, who has only one name, had been serving at the academy, raising new questions about the vetting process.
Instances of Afghan security forces turning their weapons on advisers in the U.S.-led coalition of foreign forces here, which reached a crisis level a few years ago, have declined sharply in the last year, with new practices instituted to protect soldiers. Killings of Afghan soldiers and officers by their Afghan colleagues, however, have remained far more common, amplifying what has already turned into a particularly violent summer for Taliban attacks.
Exact casualty figures for Afghan security forces are difficult to ascertain. Neither the Ministry of Defense nor the Ministry of Interior, who oversee the army and the police, publicly release the data anymore. Instead, instances of deadly violence often leak out in fits and bursts from local officials.
Taliban insurgents have been attacking areas previously considered relatively safe while operating with impunity from stretches of the country that were once contested. While some Western officials say that internal data suggest violence is actually down from a year ago, other indications, including a recent U.N. report on civilian casualties, contradict the assertion.
The troubled security situation has compounded a political crisis over the disputed outcome of the election for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. A runoff election marred by fraud has led to bitter recriminations between the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who both assert victory.
Tensions forced both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the United Nations to get involved. In an effort to keep the country from fracturing, Kerry brokered a deal to audit all 8.1 million votes cast in the June 14th runoff and form a unity government.
But that effort has not been going well, as both sides have complained of unfair treatment. Election officials have barely begun checking the more than 22,000 ballot boxes. Wednesday again offered a reminder of the challenges, when observers for both campaigns, in apparent disagreement over the audit, got into a physical altercation.