Investigators are searching for an Afghan National Army soldier who shot a rocket at British soldiers in Helmand province, killing three and injuring four others early Tuesday morning, an Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman said.
The men, from 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, were on duty on Tuesday morning in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand province, when the Afghan opened fire. One of the dead is believed to be a Nepalese Gurkha and the other two were described as UK nationals. The BBC understands that one of the soldiers killed was shot. It is understood that the other two were killed by a rocket propelled grenade.
“In that patrol base, this will be a traumatic event,” Lt.-Gen. Nick Parker, deputy commander of ISAF and the senior British officer in Afghanistan, said in a statement. (Reuters)
The spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lt. Col. James Carr-Smith, said: “We believe these were the actions of a lone individual who has betrayed his ISAF and Afghan comrades. His whereabouts are currently unknown but we are making strenuous efforts to find him. He should know that his actions will not deter us from our task and we will continue to work closely with our Afghan friends to bring security to Helmand. Three courages and dedicated soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. They will be greatly missed and their actions will not be forgotten. We will remember them.” (BBC)
In a statement released Tuesday, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the soldiers were killed at an army patrol base manned by NATO and Afghan troops. The statement said NATO and Afghan officials were investigating the incident.
“We have sacrificed together, and we must ensure that the trust between our forces remains solid in order to defeat our common enemies,” Gen. David Petraeus said in a statement. Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said working together was paramount. “This is a combined, joint mission, Afghan and Alliance troopers fighting shoulder-to-shoulder against the Taliban and other extremists,” he said. (CNN)
Afghan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi expressed sympathies to the families of the deceased soldiers, describing them as “coalition partners.” In a statement he said, “Our ongoing, partnered investigation will seek to determine how this event could have occurred and we will prosecute those responsible.” (CNN)
Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, told the BBC that it was important to remember that this was an isolated incident and “not a pattern of events.”
The British Ministry of Defence echoed the mourning, calling the shooting incident a “suspected premeditated attack.” “This is a despicable and cowardly act, and my thoughts go out to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives,” said British Defence Secretary Liam Fox. “This incident will be thoroughly investigated by ISAF and the Afghan security forces, and we will do everything we can to bring the individual responsible to justice… Training and developing the Afghan National Security Forces is vital to the international mission in Afghanistan and today’s events will not undermine the real progress we continue to make. British and ISAF forces are working shoulder to shoulder with Afghans and will continue to do so undeterred,” Fox said. (CNN) Security correspondent Frank Gardner said he was not surprised that the attack had happened because the vetting process to join the Afghan military is poor. It is not a popular career move, he said, because it is poorly paid and dangerous. “It is important to keep an open mind about what has motivated this person,” said our correspondent. This kind of thing often has rather more below the surface. There are often tribal feuds, there are family feuds; there are personal reasons. So it isn’t always down to the insurgency.” (BBC) The correspondent added that the tragedy was likely to intensify debate over the human costs of the mission in Afghanistan, but he said the West’s exit strategy relies on training the Afghan security forces.
A number of British military personnel killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at 317. British soldiers in Afghanistan have trained 130,000 Afghan troops since 2005, and 5,000 British troops are currently partnering members of the ANA. Britain is the largest contributor to the NATO force after the United States.
Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the killings as “appalling” but insisted that the attack should not change the strategy of working alongside the Afghan army. “It is absolutely essential that we don’t let this terrible incident change our strategy. It is the right thing to do to build up the Afghan national army. We need to make sure that we build up that army because that, in the end, is the way that we are going to be able to bring our troops back home.” (BBC) Mr. Cameron said he spoke to President Karzai on Tuesday morning and both men agreed that an urgent investigation was required.
President Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the Afghanistan government was also investigating the killings. At a press conference in Kabul, Omar said that if the reports were true, the attack was “very regrettable.” “The president was upset to hear this,” he said. (New York Times) President Karzai expressed his condolences and apologies for the attack. His apology comes at a time of tension between NATO and the Afghan government, noted the CBC’s Cameron MacIntosh in a report from Kandahar. “Last week, the Afghan government sharply criticized NATO for killing five Afghan soldiers in a ‘friendly-fire’ accident,” he said. (CBC)