Eight American soldiers and a civilian contractor were shot and killed by an Afghan pilot in Kabul yesterday after an argument erupted during a meeting at the city's military airport.
It is the deadliest instance of a member of the Afghan security forces turning on his foreign trainers, and the latest in a series of morale-sapping incidents highlighting the inadequacies of the Afghan police and military.
The Afghan air force officer of 20 years standing reportedly burst into a daily briefing at the Afghan Air Corps headquarters at Kabul airport and began arguing with foreign mentors. "Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started," said Air Corps spokesman Colonel Mohammed Bahadur Raeeskhail. "We saw a number of Afghan army officers and soldiers running out of the building. Some were even throwing themselves out of the windows to get away."
Five Afghans were injured by the gunman, who was subsequently shot dead.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the shooting, but fellow pilots said the argument was the result of personal differences and that the gunman, 50, from a respectable Kabul family, was not working for the insurgents.
Yesterday's shooting comes after a spate of security lapses that in recent days have seen almost 500 Taliban prisoners tunnel out of their high-security jail, and a provincial police chief blown up by a man in police uniform. It is another reminder of the fragility of Nato plans to start turning the country over to the Afghan police and military in July.
Afghan security forces are scheduled to take charge of seven areas of the country, including the provincial capital of Helmand, where they will be expected to maintain law and order in the face of an ever-bloodier insurgency.
This week it emerged that the Afghan government does not even know how many police it has. "This is, to put it bluntly, basic record keeping that shouldn't be a challenge in the year 2011," said Joshua Foust, a prolific commentator who has worked in Afghanistan for the US military. "That the Afghan police still don't operate in a minimally effective way is a stinging indictment not of them, but of the people training them."
After yesterday's shootings, the government cancelled a military parade to celebrate Mujahedin Victory Day, the annual holiday marking the day in 1992 that rebel fighters overthrew the Communist government, citing "security reasons". Three years ago the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, survived an assassination attempt while watching the festivities.