KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan soldier turned his weapon against foreign and Afghan troops in a southern province, killing one British soldier, another attack by a member of Afghanistan’s military against its foreign allies, officials said Tuesday.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, the first insider attack of 2013. Several British soldiers were also reported wounded.
Such “insider attacks” by Afghan soldiers and police, or men wearing their uniforms, rose dramatically last year. The attacks come as NATO and Afghan forces are in closer contact, as foreign troops hand over security to the Afghans and train them before an almost total withdrawal by the end of 2014.
NATO command spokesman Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz identified the dead soldier in Monday’s shooting as British, but his name was not released.
“Yesterday, a suspected member of the Afghan national army shot and killed a British (NATO) soldier,” Katz told a news conference. He said the shooting occurred at a patrol base in Nahri Sarraj district of Helmand province and that the shooter fired at both Afghan and British troops. He said the incident is under investigation.
An Afghan Defense Ministry official said the shooter was an enlisted soldier, and six British soldiers were wounded. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said in an email that “an infiltrator” staged the attack and managed to escape from the scene but was then shot and killed after opening fire on a checkpoint. The Taliban have used the term “infiltrator” in the past to refer to members who have enlisted in the military to conduct such an attack. They identified the assailant as Mohammad Qasim Faroq.
In London, the Ministry of Defense said the soldier, who was attached to the 21 Engineer Regiment, was killed by small arms fire at Patrol Base Hazrat.
Several similar attacks have occurred in Helmand, the country’s most violent province, where almost all British forces have been concentrated. Capt. Walter Reid Barrie was shot and killed in Nad Ali district of Helmand Nov. 11, the last British soldier to die before Monday’s incident. Two British soldiers were killed by an Afghan policeman last October, and the same month a police officer and militants poisoned their colleagues and shot others, leaving six Afghans dead.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said Tuesday that in light of the increase in insider attacks, measures have been taken to increase security in Afghanistan — including better vetting and screening of recruits and bolstering counterterrorism efforts.
“These are clearly very, very serious incidents,” spokesman Jean-Christophe Gray said. “We have taken a number of measures, and the military always keeps force protection measures under review.”
Insider attacks killed 61 people in 45 incidents last year, compared to 35 killed in 21 attacks a year earlier, according to NATO. This tally does not include the Dec. 24 killing of an American civilian adviser by a female member of the Afghan police, because an investigation of the reportedly mentally unstable woman is continuing.
In some cases, militants have donned Afghan army or police uniforms to attack foreign troops. A number of attacks have also been carried out by members of Afghan security forces against their own comrades.
A total of 439 British forces personnel and Ministry of Defense civilians have died during the 11-year war, the second highest toll in the NATO-led coalition after the United States. Of these, 396 were killed as a result of hostile action, according to official British death tolls.