Three Australian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed and seven other soldiers were wounded when a man wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fire during a parade at a patrol base in Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.
The gunman in Saturday's attack was shot dead by Australian soldiers at the base in southern Kandahar province, Australian Defense Force chief Lt. Gen. David Hurley told reporters in the western Australian city of Perth. Of the seven wounded Australian soldiers, one was being treated for life-threatening injuries and four others for serious injuries, Hurley said.
"Given the nature of this attack, there will be a natural response to question our role in mentoring the Afghan national army," Hurley said. "However, we must be careful not to jump to conclusions. An extensive investigation is commencing so that we can develop an accurate understanding of the circumstances of this incident."
Hurley said the gunman's motive was not yet known. Afghan soldiers at the base were disarmed and confined to their barracks as a precaution as officials investigated the shooting.
Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, the largest force provided by any country outside NATO. Saturday's attacks brought the Australian death toll from the conflict to 32.
The shooting came the same day a Taliban suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into an armored NATO bus in Kabul, killing 17 people
"Whether the two are related, time will tell," Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said. "There's nothing obvious that would draw that conclusion."
Smith insisted that Australia's role in Afghanistan remained vital and said Afghanistan was still on track to take over its own security by 2014 _ the year Australia plans to withdraw its troops from the country.
"If we were to leave now, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area would again become a breeding ground for international terrorism," he said.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the shooting marked a dark day for the nation.
"I don't know a better word than the word 'bitter' to describe how we feel today," Gillard told reporters in Perth. "I recognize the circumstances of this incident are going to raise many deep and troubling questions in the minds of Australians. Attacks like this are designed to do just that _ to corrode trust."
Gillard repeated Smith's assertion that the incident would not change Australia's mission in Afghanistan.
"Our partners in the Afghan national army are shocked and horrified by what has occurred. The people of Afghanistan are trying to build a nation _ a nation free of violence and free of fear," Gillard said. "We know that the act of this Afghanistan (army) member was not in the interests of the people of Afghanistan."