Two British servicemen have been killed by a member of the Afghan army at the headquarters of the UK mission in Helmand. The attacks yesterday were followed by the fatal shooting of another Nato soldier, believed to be an American, in the east of the country, by an Afghan policemen.
The deaths raised fresh questions about the policy on which the West's exit strategy from the war is based and deepened concern about the unraveling security situation in the country.
The two victims were on duty at the base in Lashkar Gar, the capital of Helmand, when they were shot by the Afghan, who was himself killed by British troops. The attacker had arrived claiming that he was carrying out checks for a visit of dignitaries from Kabul to gain access past the main gate before opening fire. Last night the Ministry of Defence in London said the two dead men were from the Royal Marines and the Adjutant General's Corps (Staff & Personal Support).
The Afghan soldier, from Nangarhar province, was not viewed with suspicion by colleagues or superiors. He arrived at the gate along with a group of Afghan troops in two vehicles, before approaching the British troops on guard saying he had been assigned as part of a security detail for a delegation of dignitaries from Kabul. There was an altercation and the Afghan started firing his M16 American-made carbine rifle.
Brigadier General Sherin Shah Kobadi, the Afghan Commander in Helmand, said: "Today's incident, which involved armed conflict by one of the ANA members of the Fourth Kandak of 3-215 Brigade, was a tragic event. This is still under investigation and it is unclear if the action was planned or influenced by the enemy or if he acted alone. It is a matter of the deepest regret that two ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] soldiers who came to our country to provide security are now dead."
Military commanders warned that hastening the pull out of troops because of the rising death toll would be hugely damaging to the exit strategy.
However, the killings have raised the spectre, once again, of an enemy within. The Taliban claimed the Afghan soldier had consulted them before carrying out his attack, although there is currently no evidence to support this.
But the ending of the West's mission in 2014 is predicated on security being taken over by the forces of President Hamid Karzai. This would mean British troops would have to work in close proximity to Afghan troops in the meantime.