Afghan hunt for rogue soldier after British killings

14th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

A renegade Afghan soldier is on the run after killing three British soldiers on a base in the troubled south of the country, adding to concerns about NATO-led efforts to help build up the Afghan army.

Afghan's army chief vowed a full investigation into Tuesday's shooting but Britain, the main US ally fighting the war against the Taliban, vowed it would not alter its strategy in working with local forces.

The attack on the members of a British Gurkha battalion in Helmand province has added to the death toll among NATO troops in Afghanistan, with a total of 359 killed so far this year, according to the website.

The increasing number of troop deaths and a recent dramatic change in NATO command has raised questions about faltering progress in the US-led war to end almost nine years of a Taliban insurgency.

British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed British troops would not change the way they work with the local military despite the attack by what he described as a "rogue element" within the Afghan National Army (ANA).

"I think it's absolutely essential that we don't let this appalling incident change our strategy or our approach," Cameron said, calling for a "proper investigation" into the shootings.

"The right thing for us to do is to keep with our strategy of working with and building up the Afghan National Army... it's when that happens that we will be able to bring our troops back home."

Britain has around 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force fighting an intensifying insurgency by the hardline Islamist Taliban, which was ousted in 2001.

Cameron has signalled he would like to see British combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in five years' time.

The United States and NATO have 143,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the number due to rise to 150,000 in coming weeks as the international forces step up their campaign against the Taliban.

Military officials said the three dead soldiers were from a Gurkha battalion, whose troops are drawn from Nepal, but have not given details on their nationalities. Several more were also wounded in the attack.

"We believe these were the actions of a lone individual who has betrayed his International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan comrades," said a spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel James Carr-Smith.

The killings, which the British Ministry of Defence described as a "suspected premeditated attack", followed a similar incident in November, when an Afghan policeman shot dead five British soldiers at a checkpoint in Helmand.

The Taliban said an Afghan soldier had opened fire on sleeping troops at a base in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand and had killed eight.

The soldier was taken to a "safe place" after surrendering himself to the "mujahedeen", according to the Taliban, who are known to exaggerate claims.

Deputy ISAF commander Lieutenant General Nick Parker described the incident as "a really serious breach of trust" that would have an impact on those on the base and called for a full investigation by the Afghan army to ensure it would not happen again.

US General David Petraeus, who assumed command of NATO troops this month after the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal, said it was vital to ensure that the trust between Afghan and international forces "remains solid in order to defeat our common enemies".

Afghan army chief General Sher Mohammad Karimi said investigators "will seek to determine how this event could have occurred and we will prosecute those responsible".

A British marine was also shot dead in a separate incident on Tuesday while on foot patrol in Sangin, bringing the total number of British deaths in the Afghan conflict to 318.

About 1,000 British troops are expected to hand over control of violence-wracked Sangin to US forces and be redeployed to central Helmand by the end of the year.

The overall NATO death toll so far this year compares to 520 last year.

© 2010 AFP

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