NATO investigates "rogue" attack by Afghan soldier

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The Independent Online

NATO-led forces in Afghanistan are investigating reports that an Afghan soldier had shot several of its troops in Afghanistan's volatile south.

If the incident is confirmed, it would be the latest in a series of "rogue" attacks by Afghan police and soldiers, underlining the pressure on US and NATO troops as they try to train Afghan forces rapidly to allow the handover of security responsibility.

Afghan media reported the soldier had killed up to three members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, late yesterday.

It quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying the Afghan soldier had fired on the foreign troops inside a military base and had then fled to join up with Taliban fighters in the area.

"We are aware of the incident in Helmand and we are investigating the incident," an ISAF spokesman said.

He said no information would be released until the investigation was complete. US and British troops make up the backbone of the NATO forces in the area.

In October, an Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an outpost manned by French and Afghan troops north of the capital, Kabul, but caused no casualties.

Two Spanish police and an interpreter were killed by an Afghan policeman they were training at a remote base in the northwest in August.

In July, an Afghan soldier killed two US contractors inside a military base a in the north and, a week later, another Afghan soldier killed three British Gurkha soldiers.

Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, with civilian and military casualties at record levels despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.

Security in Afghanistan will be a major topic at a NATO summit in Lisbon in about two weeks, and when US President Barack Obama reviews his Afghanistan strategy in December.

Afghan authorities began tighter vetting of recruits after a renegade soldier killed five British troops last year.

The Afghan government is pushing to take over security responsibility from foreign forces by 2014, part of a wider peace strategy that could also involve talks with Taliban leaders.

Rapid recruitment into the Afghan security forces, which authorities want boosted to at least 300,000, has raised fears the Taliban has infiltrated sympathisers into the ranks of the police and army.

Obama hopes to begin a gradual drawdown of US troops from July 2011, depending on the readiness of Afghan forces and other security factors.

Some European NATO members are also beginning to question how long they can sustain their deployments to the increasingly unpopular war.