Afghan sleeper agent kills 10 in suicide attack at base
LIKE hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, he volunteered in the national army, ran drills in the mud, carried an automatic rifle, and worked alongside coalition mentors struggling against a hardcore insurgency. But he was not one of them.
Yesterday, he walked into a meeting of Nato trainers and Afghan troops at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in the eastern province of Laghman and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform.
Five Nato troopers, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the deadliest sleeper agent assault.
Four Afghan soldiers and three interpreters were wounded in the attack.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and said the soldier was a sleeper agent who joined the army a month ago, a contention confirmed by an Afghan army official.
"Today, when there was a meeting going on between Afghan and foreign soldiers, he used the opportunity to carry out the attack," a Taliban spokesman said in an email to reporters.
Attacks by insurgents donning security uniforms are a relatively rare but recurrent problem as Nato and Afghan forces work more closely together. Afghanistan's security forces are also ramping up recruitment of Afghan soldiers and policemen so they can take the lead in securing their nation by the end of 2014.
More than 70,000 police and soldiers were added last year in an effort to reach 305,000 troopers by the end of this year.
Afghan security forces are supposed to be vetted by past employers or even village elders, but in a country where unemployment is about 35 per cent, the literacy rate is about 28 per cent, computerised record-keeping is a novelty and background checks are often rudimentary.
The explosion took place at 7.30am, as many people on the base were beginning the morning shift and as Nato and Afghan service members conducted a "key leader engagement" meeting.
After the explosion, Blackhawk helicopters swooped down to carry the dead and wounded to hospitals.
A doctor in nearby Nangarhar province said the bodies of four Afghan soldiers brought to a hospital in Jalalabad were too badly damaged to determine their military rank. Nato declined to provide further identifying information pending notification of the next of kin.
In the wake of such attacks, often it's not clear whether the killer was an Afghan trooper who turned on his Western counterparts spontaneously or an insurgent who donned a uniform to infiltrate the base and attack from inside.
Last Friday, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police HQ, killing the top law enforcement officer in the province.
Earlier this month, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot dead two US personnel tasked with training members of the country's security forces.
In February, an Afghan soldier shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others.
Until yesterday, the worse case of a sleeper agent attack was in November, when an Afghan border policeman shot dead six American soldiers before he himself was shot dead. The policeman had been in the force for three years.