REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- In what would be one of the more serious security breaches to hit an Afghan government installation, nearly a dozen suicide vests were found inside or near the heavily guarded Ministry of Defense, and some members of the Afghan army were suspected of having taken part in a violent plot, Western and Afghan officials said Tuesday.
The apparent use of the ministry grounds to try to mount a major attack follows a concerted series of attacks against Western troops by Afghan soldiers, and comes at a time when the American strategy of training Afghan forces to take over security responsibilities in a prelude to the end to the NATO combat mission has been thrown into doubt.
On Monday, Afghan police or army personnel killed three coalition troops, an American and two Britons. Such turncoat shootings have accounted for about one-sixth of the fatalities sustained by the NATO force this year.
Ministry breaches are not unheard-of either. In February, two U.S. military officers were slain inside a tightly fortified area of the Interior Ministry. An Afghan employee of the ministry is suspected in those killings, which came as the country was racked by violent protests over the burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. base.
The Defense Ministry on Tuesday denied the existence of any plot, but personnel who could normally enter the ministry described a state of high alert as word of the alleged attack plan, said to have been uncovered late Monday, leaked out.
Over the past year, the Taliban movement has carried out a number of major attacks on targets inside the capital, even while avoiding direct battlefield confrontations with far better-armed Western troops. Some of those strikes, including a 20-hour siege of the U.S. Embassy last autumn, have involved suspected complicity on the part of Afghan police or other security officials.
A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suicide vests were thought to have been intended for use against buses that carry Defense Ministry personnel and soldiers to work. Hundreds are transported by this method every working day.
The Defense Ministry’s emphatic denial of the plot did little to allay fears of a major infiltration having occurred.
The ministry is located in what is considered the most secure area of Kabul, close to the presidential palace, other government ministries, many embassies and the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
-- Laura King
Photo: Afghan policemen guard near the main gate of a joint civilian-military base where two British soldiers were killed, reportedly by an Afghan soldier, in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province on Monday. Credit: Abdul Khaleq / Associated Press.