Saturday, February 25, 2012

U.S. Pulls Out Advisers After Two Killed in Kabul

KABUL—The U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan pulled scores of advisers from Afghan ministries after two high-ranking American military officers were gunned down Saturday at the nation's Interior Ministry headquarters.

U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen ordered the unprecedented move after an American colonel and major were both found shot in the head at the busy Interior Ministry compound that is the nerve center for the Afghan law enforcement, according to one Western official in Kabul.

"We are investigating the crime and we will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack," Gen. Allen said in a statement. "The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered."

Afghan and American officials shut down the ministry compound in central Kabul as they launched an investigation into the killings in one of the most heavily guarded parts of the capital.

Top U.S. military officials said they were still trying to determine the identity of the attacker. But one Western official in Kabul said that the two Americans were shot by an Afghan police official who was upset about the burning of Qurans earlier this week at a U.S. military base.

Hours after the shooting, the Taliban issued a statement claiming that the attacker was an insurgent infiltrator who killed the Americans in retaliation for the Quran burning. In the statement, the Taliban said the assailant called to inform the insurgent group that he had carried out the attack and was unharmed.

Details of the incident remained sketchy.

Coalition officials in Kabul dismissed claims by some Afghan officials that the two Americans were killed by a Western colleague.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the two American military officers were found dead in a secure office on the compound by one of their colleagues. It remained unclear who killed the pair, or how the attacker got inside the well-protected part of the ministry, he said.

But other Afghan, Western diplomatic and military officials said that initial reports indicated that the gunman was a member of the Afghan security forces.

In a separate incident Thursday, an Afghan soldier shot and killed two U.S. soldiers at a small military base in eastern Afghanistan. The attacker escaped through a crowd of anti-Quran burning demonstrators outside the base.

Saturday's killings have rung new alarms about the damaging impact of the Quran burning on the military mission in Afghanistan. They also raised new questions about the dangers faced by U.S. and coalition forces from their Afghan military partners.

More than 77 coalition troops have been killed by Afghan colleagues in the last five years. Three-quarters of those have taken place in the last two years.

Saturday's confrontation in Kabul came as thousands of demonstrators unsuccessfully tried to storm the United Nations compound in the northeastern city of Kunduz. At least five people were killed as protesters, some armed with guns, converged on the U.N offices, according to the provincial governor's office.

Though no demonstrations were reported Saturday in Kabul, elsewhere in the country fury over the attempt by coalition soldiers to incinerate a truckload of Islamic books, including copies of the Quran, at Bagram Airfield showed no signs of diminishing.

In a wave of unrest now in its fifth day, protesters are targeting Afghan government buildings and Western offices.

At least 30 people have been killed since Tuesday. Southern Afghanistan—the heartland of the Taliban insurgency—has been the only part of the country to avoid deadly confrontations so far.

American officials have tried to contain Afghan outrage by issuing repeated apologies and launching a swift investigation into the incident.

U.S. President Barack Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a personal letter.

U.S. officials have called the Quran burning a serious mistake. Gen. Allen also called for all forces to undergo quick training on the proper way to handle Islamic religious books.

U.S. military officials have said the books were set aside for destruction because Afghan detainees at the Parwan military detention center at Bagram were using them to trade messages and share extremist writing.

But it remains unclear why the soldiers decided to burn copies of the Quran—a particularly incendiary affront to Muslims who view the book as the sacred word of God as relayed to the Prophet Muhammad.



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