REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Two British troops were gunned down Monday by a man in an Afghan army uniform, the latest in a rash of "insider" killings that have plagued the NATO force this year, Western and Afghan military officials said.
Afghan officials in Helmand province said the shootings took place at a base outside the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. The Western military, in a statement, confirmed the deaths of two of its service members, and said the shooter was also killed.
The phenomenon of Afghan troops killing members of the NATO force -- which accounts for about one-sixth of the year's Western military fatalities -- has begun to represent a significant threat to a key aspect of the U.S. exit strategy: training and mentoring Afghan forces to the point that security responsibilities can be handed over to them.
The pace of such attacks quickened amid a burst of ill feeling last month over American troops' mistaken disposal of copies of the Muslim holy book in a trash incinerator at a U.S. base north of Kabul. During a week of violent riots, two U.S. soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier. Also, two U.S. military officers were killed by an employee of the Afghan Interior Ministry as they worked in a tightly secured part of the ministry compound.
Monday's incident marked the first such killing since a shooting rampage on March 11, in which a U.S. Army sergeant is accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province, nine of them children. A few days after the Kandahar shootings, an Afghan military interpreter in Helmand province stole a military vehicle and tried to ram it into a group of senior U.S. Marines waiting to greet visiting Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
Afghan officials have begun more stringent vetting procedures for new recruits, trying to prevent Taliban infiltrators from making their way into the ranks of the police and army. In some instances, though, assailants have apparently acted out of personal animosity toward Western mentors.
The Taliban claimed that Monday's attacker had coordinated his assault with the insurgents, but that claim could not be verified.
-- Laura King
Photo: Afghan police officers stand guard near the main gate of a joint civilian-military base where two British soldiers were killed in Lashkar Gah. Credit: Abdul Khaleq / Associated Press