KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan soldier opened fire at a group of U.S. troops in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing an American soldier and wounding at least two others before he was shot dead, a U.S. official said.
The incident happened after a meeting between Afghan provincial leaders and a U.S. Embassy official in the compound of the provincial governor in Jalalabad. All U.S. Embassy staff were accounted for and returned safely to their mission headquarters, the embassy said.
It was the latest in so-called “insider attacks” — instances in which Afghan soldiers or policemen have turned their weapons on their fellow American or other NATO colleagues.
The attack was also the second fatality suffered by NATO since the beginning of the year, when the coalition launched its new mission in Afghanistan called Resolute Support after foreign combat troops withdrew from the country.
The last previous incident in which an American soldier was killed in Afghanistan was on Dec. 13, when a roadside bombing killed two U.S. troops in Parwan province. Also, an Afghan soldier killed three American contractors on January 29. The shooter was also killed in that incident.
NATO confirmed that one of its soldiers died in Wednesday’s attack, without providing the nationality of the slain soldier, as is the coalition’s policy. The Washington official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak before the official announcement was released.
Afghan Gen. Fazel Ahmad Sherzad, who is police chief for eastern Nangarhar province where the shooting happened, said it took place immediately after the meeting in the governor’s compound and the embassy official had left.
“Right after the U.S. official had left, suddenly an Afghan army soldier opened fire on the U.S. soldiers who were present in the compound,” Sherzad told The Associated Press.
The American troops returned fire, killing the Afghan soldier, whom Sherzad identified as Abdul Azim, from Laghman province.
The motive for his attack was not immediately known and no group claimed responsibility for the assault. In past attacks, Taliban insurgents have been known to wear Afghan police or military uniforms to stage attacks on the international troops.
The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan P. Michael McKinley was not present at the time of the incident, said Sherzad. Neither Sherzad nor the U.S. Embassy identified the senior American diplomat at the meeting.
Information was sketchy and an eyewitness told the AP that four U.S. troops had been wounded in the attack — not three as Sherzad said — and were being treated at a clinic on the American base in Jalalabad.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, referring to the U.S.-led coalition, said: “We are aware that there was an exchange of gunfire involving Resolute Support service members near the provincial governor’s compound in Jalalabad.
“The incident took place after a senior U.S. official held a meeting with the provincial governor. All Chief of Mission personnel of the visiting party are accounted for,” spokeswoman Monica Cummings said.
Noman Atefi, the spokesman for the Afghan National Army’s eastern corps command, said one Afghan soldier had been killed and two others wounded in the shootout. It was not immediately clear if the fatality he was referring to on the side of the Afghans was the attacker.
There were at least four insider attacks in Afghanistan in 2014. The worst was on Aug. 5, when an Afghan soldier shot and killed U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene. He was the highest-ranking American officer to be killed in combat since 1970, in the Vietnam War. Eighteen other people were wounded in that attack, a U.S. military investigation later found.
Insider attacks first surged in 2012 to become a tactic in the Taliban insurgency. That year, more than 60 coalition troops — most of them Americans — were killed in more than 40 attacks that threatened to shatter all trust between U.S. forces and the Afghans who are their supposed allies.
Such attacks are sometimes claimed by the Taliban as proof of their infiltration. Others are attributed to personal disputes or resentment by Afghans who have soured on the years-long international presence in their country after the fall of the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic regime.
In February, U.S. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S.-led coalition continues to “implement mitigations to avoid patterns and prevent complacency” that can lead to such insider attacks.
“These measures have reduced, but not eliminated, the threat. We will remain vigilant to prevent future insider attacks,” Campbell said.
The Western-backed Afghan government’s nearly 13-year war against insurgents has intensified in the wake of the pullout of foreign combat forces, as both sides seek to strengthen their positions ahead of possible peace talks.
In other developments, two Afghans were killed and three were wounded in an ambush late Tuesday aimed at the Afghan police in eastern Kunar province, which lies along the border with Pakistan and where the Taliban have a strong presence.
Farid Dhekhan, the spokesman for the provincial police chief, said the attack, which occurred in Narang district, targeted a police vehicle, which escaped unharmed. The dead were a man and woman from the same family, Dhekhan said, speaking on Wednesday.
Associated Press Writer Fred Frommer in Washington contributed to this story.