KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan worker on a military base opened fire and killed three NATO troops, military officials said Saturday, bringing the toll to six Western military fatalities in 24 hours at the hands of ostensible allies.
The attack took place late Friday in Helmand province, the NATO force said -- the Taliban heartland and the same province where the previous so-called green-on-blue shooting claimed the lives of three elite special-operations U.S. Marines. NATO did not disclose the nationalities of the three latest victims.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force has sought to play down the military significance of the attacks on Western troops by Afghan police, soldiers or employees of the government or military. But the shootings have been a constantly recurring theme this year, with three lethal attacks on American troops this week alone.
Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, the German who is the chief spokesman for the NATO force, pointed out that thousands of Afghan and foreign forces work together without episodes of violence. “Those two incidents clearly do not reflect the overall situation here in Afghanistan,” Katz told reporters in the Afghan capital.
Troops in the field, however, say the repeated killings have created a climate of mistrust.
At least 34 NATO troops have died this year in green-on-blue shootings, poised to surpass the tally of 35 such deaths in all of 2011. Afghan and Western military officials have taken measures to try to stem the casualties, including tighter vetting for Afghan recruits and armed Western troops -- dubbed “guardian angels” -- watching over comrades as they eat and sleep.
In the latest incident, an Afghan working on a jointly run U.S. and Afghan installation, set up at a police headquarters, ambushed a group of troops around 8 p.m., according to provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi.
In the earlier killing, the slain Marines had been lured by a police commander to a meal during the dusk-to-dawn hours when Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan are allowed to eat. Afghan and U.S. accounts differed as to whether the meal in question was a dinnertime iftar or a predawn breakfast.
Afghan officials and the Western military said the attacks were under investigation, and President Hamid Karzai condemned them.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both shootings, boasting that the killings were a bellwether of national sentiment toward foreign forces. The NATO force says relatively few of the shootings are actually carried out by Taliban infiltrators, and are usually triggered instead by arguments and antagonism, sometimes magnified by cultural differences.
-- Laura King
Photo: Afghan police stop vehicles at a checkpoint in the Qirshke distict, the first station outside Lashkar Gah city, in the volatile Helmand province. Credit: Sher Khan / EPA