Eight more killings of coalition troops also raise worries that Afghan army and police grew "too much, too fast."
An Air Force team at Dover Air Force Base, Del., brought home the remains of Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray. Gray, from Conyers, Ga., was one of five people killed last week in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province “when they encountered an insurgent who detonated a suicide vest,” the Pentagon said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, near the Pakistan border.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Six of the eight U.S., British and coalition service members killed since Thursday in southern Afghanistan were shot in the company of their Afghan allies, officials of the NATO-led coalition said Saturday.
The killings heighten worries about how the coalition troops, who are training members of the Afghan army and police, can protect themselves while working at close quarters with their Afghan counterparts. Questions are also being raised about the extent to which the attacks are part of a concerted Taliban strategy.
"We take all of these incidents seriously, and force protection is paramount on our minds," said James Graybeal, a spokesman for the NATO-led military coalition here.
"While these incidents are a challenge, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that more than 330,000 ANSF members are doing their jobs professionally every day, and that results in tens of thousands of interactions with coalition troops that are positive and involve great rapport," he said, referring to the Afghan National Security Forces.
An Afghan security official with extensive knowledge of southern Afghanistan said the tactic of using embedded assailants was a particularly worrisome one and had become one of the three main Taliban tactics.
"This is one of the dangerous and bad tactics that the Taliban have started to use," said the official, Asadullah Khalid, the minister of border and tribal affairs, who is also the security chief for southern Afghanistan. "Because they cannot fight us face to face, they are using IEDs, suicide bombings and this kind of attack."
Khalid said he believed that in the effort to increase the size of the army and the police, the forces grew "too much, too fast" to allow for thorough vetting of recruits.
Three coalition soldiers killed at a joint base on Friday night were shot at the district police headquarters in Garmsir in Helmand Province. The police headquarters shares or is next to a compound with a small coalition base. It is also the site of the district governor's compound, according to local officials.
Little is known so far about the gunman, but a preliminary investigation indicated that he was a civilian worker for the Afghan police, Graybeal said.
While Afghan recruits for the army and the police are vetted, civilian employees, especially on outlying bases, generally are not, Afghan officials said.
The Taliban's spokesman for southern and western Afghanistan, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, said that the Taliban was not responsible for the attack. "We don't know which kind of soldier he was, but whoever he was, he was a patriot and a hero," Ahmadi said.
Three Americans who were shot Friday at an outpost in the Sangin district of Helmand Province were members of a special operations unit. They were killed when they arrived at the outpost, possibly after being invited for a meal with the man who shot them. The attack was still under investigation Saturday.