Two British soldiers have become the latest victims in the rising toll of fatalities from members of the Afghan security forces turning their guns on their allies.
The soldiers, from 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, were shot at a checkpoint in the Nahr-e-Seraj district of Helmand by a gunman in a police uniform who is said to have opened fire without warning.
The deaths bring the number of UK forces killed in the so called ‘green on blue’ attacks to 11, more than quarter of all combat deaths, this year, a total of 22 since the deployment to Helmand in 2006.
The shooting near the village of Bursha comes six days after Cpl Channing Day, of 3 Medical Regiment, and Cpl David O’Connor, of 40 Commando Royal Marines, were killed in the same area. An investigation is continuing into whether they were shot deliberately by Afghan personnel or were killed by accident after mistaking a local policeman in civilian clothing for an insurgent.
The Taliban have repeatedly stated that they have been responsible for the ‘insider killings’, claiming to have ‘sleepers’ infiltrated among Western forces. However, there appear to be disparate reasons behind most of the shootings with little evidence, so far, of an undercover insurgent operation.
Nevertheless, 53 members of Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) have died due to ‘insider attacks’, most of them in the last two years. The alarming rise in such lethal incidents led to commanders temporarily suspending joint patrols last September and more stringent vetting of recruits.
The rise in such shootings is a matter of particular concern to the US led coalition in Afghanistan as the exit strategy from the war, with all combat missions due to end by 2014, is predicated in training Afghan forces to take over security responsibilities.
Afghan officials have complained that the pressure from the West to build up the numbers to the 352,000 in order to adhere to the withdrawal timetable has made it extremely difficult to carry out adequate checks on the background of those joining the army and the police
For the Gurkhas this was the second time they had lost men to ‘green on blue’ attacks. In 2009 an Afghan soldier on night duty murdered Lieutenant Neal Turkington and Corporal Arjun Purja by firing a rocket-propelled grenade into the control room of the PB (Patrol Base) 3, also in Nahr-e-Seraj. Major James Joshua Bowman, the company commander, was killed in the tent where he had slept.
Visiting the base the next morning, The Independent witnessed a scene of devastation and grief. There was also bewilderment about what happened as the Gurkhas were believed relate better to the Afghans than most other foreign troops, due to their cultural and linguistic affinities. The killer, a Hazara Shia named Talib Hussein, has never been caught.
Major Laurence Roche, spokesman for Task Force Helmand said today: “The loss of these soldiers is a huge blow to The Royal Gurkha Rifles and everyone serving in Task Force Helmand. Our thoughts are with their families, friends and fellow Gurkhas at this time.”