Afghan army says ministry attacker was outsider

AP News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2011 5:25 AM
Afghan army says ministry attacker was outsider

The man who launched a deadly attack from inside Afghanistan's Defense Ministry this week was not a soldier but an insurgent who managed to sneak past the ministry's security, officials said.

The Taliban have claimed that the assailant who opened fire in the ministry compound on Monday was an army officer working as a sleeper agent for the insurgency.

The attack was the third deadly assault from inside a government or military installation within four days, suggesting a systemic weakness in either the Afghan system of vetting security forces or laxness to security that could be equally undermining to the Afghan forces just as they're working to take over more responsibility from international troops.

Military officials had previously confirmed only that the attacker on Monday was wearing an army uniform.

"He was not one of our officers. How he entered the Defense Ministry is a question that an investigation will have to answer," said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi.

Azimi did not say how the authorities made their conclusion. The Afghan government collects biometrics data on new recruits, but is just beginning to collect it for longer-serving soldiers.

The attacker stormed into the main office building, shooting at those in his way Monday morning and killed two soldiers before he was shot dead. He also fatally wounded an officer who later died at the hospital, Azimi said.

The ministry is heavily guarded and those entering the walled compound have to go through three checkpoints before passing through the main gate. However, cars of high-ranking officials often are not inspected at these checkpoints. Also, there are about 400-500 manual laborers currently going in and out of the ministry on a daily basis because of construction projects under way, Azimi said.

The Taliban have said their agent had accomplices inside the ministry who helped execute the attack. Azimi said that it is possible that someone from inside the ministry or another ministry with access to the compound helped the attacker. However, he said no suspects had been arrested.

He declined to give more details, citing the ongoing investigation.

International forces aim to have handed over responsibility for countrywide security to the Afghans by 2014, a goal that NATO and Afghan officials say they're still on track to meet.

"We believe that Afghan security forces will be able to take over security missions in Afghanistan before the end of 2014," NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz reiterated to reporters Wednesday.

To meet this target, there has been a sharp increase in new recruits into the forces. About 6,000 people are entering the Afghan army and police each month, as compared to 800 a month in 2009 he said. Blotz said that pace puts Afghanistan on schedule to reach the targeted 305,000 force by October.

New recruits are supposed to be vetted by previous employers or at least by village elders, but there is often little information available about those joining up. And those who have served for longer often aren't subject to such scrutiny.

Since March 2009, the coalition has recorded 20 incidents where a member of the Afghan security forces or someone wearing a uniform used by them killed coalition forces, according to coalition intelligence officers. Thirty-six coalition troops have died. It is not known how many Afghan forces were killed.

Half of the 20 incidents involved the impersonation of an Afghan policeman or soldier, the officers said. Afghan security force uniforms are easily obtained at stores in Kabul, and the Interior Ministry is planning a crackdown on the illegal uniform market, they said. In other cases, NATO forces have often said the shootings resulted from internal disputes, though the Taliban has often claimed these shooters were sleeper agents.