The US military death toll from the Afghan war reached 2,000 on Saturday when a NATO soldier and civilian contractor were killed in the country’s Wardak province in a suspected insider attack.
A NATO soldier and a civilian contractor were killed in a suspected insider attack in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, the latest in a series described by a top US general as “the signature attack” of the Afghan war.
The shooting, which took place at an Afghan army checkpoint in Wardak province, marked the 2,000th death of a US serviceman in the long-running war, officials said. The assault also resulted in Afghan army casualties, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said Sunday, without providing further details.
The deaths followed “a verbal dispute” during a joint operation in Sayedabad district west of Kabul, the provincial governor’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP.
A joint assessment of the incident by ISAF and the Afghanistan National Army is under way.
The string of insider attacks is one of the greatest threats to NATO’s mission in the country, endangering a partnership key to training up Afghan security forces and withdrawing international troops.
Afghan soldiers and policemen – or militants in their uniforms – have gunned down more than 50 foreign troops so far this year, eroding the trust between coalition forces and their Afghan partners. An equal number of Afghan policemen and soldiers also died in these attacks, giving them reason as well to be suspicious of possible infiltrators within their ranks.
“I’m mad as hell about them, to be honest with you,” top NATO commander General John Allen told CBS’s “60 Minutes” programme recorded before the latest incident and scheduled to be aired Sunday.
“We’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it,” the commander said, according to excerpts of the interview released by the network.
Allen said that just as homemade bombs had become the signature weapon of the Iraq war, he believed that in Afghanistan, “the signature attack that we’re beginning to see is going to be the insider attack”.
Earlier this month, ISAF announced a scaling back of joint operations with its Afghan partners following a dramatic rise in such attacks, in which Afghan soldiers turn their weapons on their Western allies.
But US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that troops had resumed most joint operations with Afghan forces.
Panetta vowed that the insider threat would not derail plans to transfer security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, paving the way for the withdrawal of most NATO combat forces.
“We must and we will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our forces. But I also want to underscore that we remain fully committed to our strategy of transitioning to Afghan security control,” he said.