Two international soldiers killed by Afghan in uniform

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- Two international soldiers were slain in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday by a gunman in an Afghan police uniform, the NATO-led military coalition said.

The attack had the hallmarks of a series of insider attacks, in which Afghan security forces have turned their guns on their international partners. At least 53 troops have been slain in such attacks this year, according to the NATO-led alliance.

Tuesday's attack was still under investigation and the slain soldiers’ nationalities were not immediately disclosed.  But Afghan officials and the Taliban said the attack occurred in Helmand province, a front line in the war between the Afghan government and the Taliban-led Pashtun insurgency.

[Updated at 12:40 p.m. Oct. 30: The two slain soldiers were later identified by the British Defense Ministry as members of the Royal Gurkha Rifles regiment. A spokesman declined to disclose whether the soldiers were British or Nepalese nationals. The regiment is staffed by Nepalese and commanded by British officers.]

The Taliban described the fighter in a statement as “an infiltrating soldier” who opened fire on British troops in Helmand province. The militants put the number of dead at three.

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Two U.S. soldiers slain by gunman in Afghan uniform

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed on patrol Thursday in southern Afghanistan when a man in an Afghan national police uniform opened fire on them, a spokesman for the NATO-led force said.

The shooter escaped and the military was not sure if he was a member of the Afghan security forces or an insurgent in disguise. “It’s under investigation,” Charlie Stadtlander, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said of the attack in Oruzgan province.

Separately, a third soldier from the international coalition was killed and three others wounded by insurgents in western Afghanistan’s Farah province, the NATO-led force said in a statement. The force  provided no further information, but the Italian Defense Ministry later reported that the slain soldier was one of theirs.

The deaths in Oruzgan were almost certain to heighten tensions among the U.S. and Afghan forces, whose relationship has been tested this year by the wave of killings of Western soldiers by their Afghan colleagues. The NATO-led force has counted 53 deaths of coalition members this year at the hands of Afghan army or police counterparts.

U.S. military commanders are still seeking to understand the reason for the epidemic. While the Taliban has claimed many of the deaths, the killings also reflect real resentment and anger on the part of Afghans toward their Western allies.

Western troops are meant to train and mentor the Afghan forces so they can take over the country’s security by the end of 2014, when international forces will largely leave Afghanistan.

Such shootings make it harder to plan the seamless transition sought by the United States. They also complicate the diplomatic relationship between Western nations and Afghanistan as the international community focuses on ensuring the Afghans’ next presidential election in 2014 is seen as free and fair.


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Suicide bomber detonates truck outside Afghan and NATO base

Afghan police
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber detonated a truck at the entrance of a shared Afghan and NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, wounding several local and international troops, officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Wednesday attack. At least 10 Afghan forces were wounded, said a police spokesman in the Zurmat district of eastern Paktia province.  

A NATO force spokesperson, U.S. Army Major Martyn Crighton, confirmed that the wounded included international troops but declined to provide further details. He said the explosion was followed by incoming rocket or mortar fire.  

A statement by the Taliban said the attack occured at 7 a.m. and destroyed two helicopters and surveillance equipment and caused dozens of casualties.

The attack follows a suicide bombing Saturday at an intelligence office in Kandahar province that killed a CIA agent and a senior Afghan intelligence official.  The beginning of October saw a suicide bomb attack on an Afghan base in Khost, killing 20 people including three U.S. soldiers; and in  September,  fighters stormed the main NATO base in Helmand province, killing two U.S. Marines and destroying six Harrier jets.

The Taliban and its allies have started targeting the Afghan soldiers and police that the United States is counting on to secure the country as international forces withdraw by the end of 2014.


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Photo: Afghan policemen stand guard at a checkpoint in Ghazni following a suicide bomb attack targeting a military base in Zurmat district in neighboring Paktia province, on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. Credit: Naweed Haqjoo / European Pressphoto Agency


CIA officer killed in Afghanistan suicide bombing, sources say

WASHINGTON -- A CIA officer was among those killed by a suicide bomber in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, sources familiar with the incident said, in the latest of a series of fatal insider attacks that have undermined American efforts to turn security over to Afghan forces.

A NATO spokesman said the bomber was a member of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, or NDS. An NDS spokesman disputed that, telling the Associated Press that the attacker had worn an Afghan uniform to gain access to the building in Kandahar.

A U.S. official said the bomber had served on the Afghan police force for six years before moving to the NDS. He said officials believe the attack was a Taliban operation targeting NDS officers. The bomber was noticed acting suspiciously but detonated the device before anyone could shoot him.

The bomber blew himself up as Americans and Afghan officials were arriving to deliver new office furniture to the intelligence headquarters in Kandahar's Maruf district, the AP reported. Two Americans and four Afghan intelligence agents were killed in the blast.

The Pentagon identified the U.S. military casualty as Spc. Brittany B. Gordon, 24, of St. Petersburg, Fla., assigned to the 572 Military Intelligence Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

The second American killed was a CIA officer deployed in Afghanistan, sources familiar with the situation said. CIA staff was briefed on the bombing this week, said the sources, who would not be quoted discussing potentially classified information. The officer’s name and role was not disclosed. The CIA had no comment.

More than 50 U.S. and NATO troops have been killed this year by members of Afghan security forces, although Saturday’s incident apparently is the first reported insider attack by an Afghan intelligence officer. NDS officers are presumed to be well vetted.

In September 2011, an Afghan working for the U.S. government killed one CIA employee and wounded another American in an attack on a CIA office in Kabul, U.S. officials said at the time.

In 2009, an Al Qaeda double agent detonated a suicide vest as he got out of a car inside a CIA base in Khost province, killing seven CIA officers in the largest single-day loss for the spy agency since the U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut in 1983.

By tradition, slain CIA officers are recognized with a star carved in a marble wall in the lobby of CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. The wall has more than 100 stars, but not every CIA death is reported or immediately acknowledged.


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U.S., allies girding for worst-case scenario with Syria's WMD

Chemical weapons response training site in Jordan
During a week that witnessed deadly artillery exchanges between Syria and Turkey and a tense showdown over a plane purportedly ferrying munitions from Russia, the arrival of 150 U.S. troops in Jordan was likely to be viewed as token support for an ally coping with a refugee influx from Syria's civil war.

GlobalFocusThe deployment, though, may be a response to mounting concerns at the Pentagon and among European and Middle East allies that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of hostile forces if the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is eventually toppled.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed little about the special-forces mission to Jordan when he confirmed it at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday. But he noted that the United States has been working closely with Jordan to keep track of Syria's weapons of mass destruction as the 19-month-old rebellion grinds on.

Unlike a decade ago, when bad intelligence on Iraq's alleged chemical and biological weapons spurred a clamor for U.S. military intervention, defense strategists appear to be approaching the suspected stockpiles of mustard and nerve gases in Syria with more collaboration and caution.

The resistance to preemptive action isn't just a consequence of lessons learned in Iraq. Syria is believed to have one of the world's largest chemical weapons arsenals, with commercial satellite surveillance and intelligence reports suggesting as many as 50 production and storage sites as well as missiles that could carry the deadly agents beyond its borders. Jane's Intelligence Review reported in 2009 that Damascus had embarked on a major upgrade of its chemical weapons facilities, transforming its Safir site near Aleppo, now the scene of intense fighting, into a credible deterrent to any threat from nuclear-armed Israel.

The scope of the Syrian chemical weapons program and the international community's failure to craft a cohesive plan to stop the fighting confront Western military strategists with the need to plan for a worst-case scenario rather than act to prevent it, analysts say. That means preparing allies in the region to launch a massive rapid-deployment operation after the Assad regime collapsed but before Al Qaeda-aligned fighters or rogue elements of the Syrian rebels could get their hands on the WMD.

Military exercises in JordanThe U.S. special forces sent to Amman are probably training Jordanian troops in containment techniques and checking their equipment and chemical-biological hazard protection and practices, said Steven Bucci, a former Army Green Beret officer and senior Pentagon official who is now a research fellow in defense and domestic  security at the Heritage Foundation.

"They will probably be running them through training procedures for dealing with this stuff to secure it and get it under control or to respond to it if it gets used" in a calamitous last battle, said Bucci. "This is about the best use of our military we could have now, and hopefully we're also helping out the Turks."

Bucci testified to Congress in July that even a limited operation to secure Syria's chemical weapons would require more than 75,000 troops -- and many more if launched amid the civil war now raging.

It is "not a viable option" to commit masses of U.S. ground troops to such an operation, Bucci told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Any effective force, he said, would have to involve troops from allied Muslim countries also at risk of attack with Syria's chemical weapons.

That's why, he said in an interview Thursday, it is essential for the United States to coordinate with Syria's neighbors now to prepare a post-Assad operation that can prevent terrorist groups or smugglers from making off with the WMD.

Raymond Zilinskas, director of the chemical and biological weapons program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, points out that assessments of Syria's chemical weapons program are largely unverified. But he, too, says the United States and its allies should be girding for the worst.

"From what I understand, these depots are pretty well guarded by the Syrian regime's forces, and they would probably be the last to give up their guarding duties," Zilinskas said. "But if there is a total collapse, there would of course be a threat of jihadists getting these weapons."

Talk of airstrikes to remove the threat is nonsensical, Zilinskas said. Syria has formidable antiaircraft defenses built with Russian assistance, and the international community lacks crucial information on the precise locations, quantities and containment of the gases to be able to bomb them without risking spreading the deadly substances.

"Sarin is pretty volatile. If all these other problems could be resolved, the sarin would probably be destroyed or would be so volatile that it would disappear quickly," Zilinskas said. "But that's not necessarily the case with mustard gas. It's much less deadly but much more persistent. And if the Syrians turn out to have VX, which is a persistent nerve gas, that could cause real problems. That is the worst-case scenario they have to prepare for."


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Photo, top: A military training facility in Russeifeh, Jordan, where U.S. forces and a handful of British allies began training Jordanian commandos this week to respond in case of an attack with chemical weapons from neighboring Syria. Credit: Mohammad Hannon / Associated Press

Insert: A scene from U.S.-Jordanian military exercises in the Qatrana desert in June. Credit: Jamal Nasrallah /AFP/Getty Images

Turkey shells Syrian targets but says war not on agenda

BEIRUT -- Turkey on Thursday resumed retaliatory shelling of targets inside Syria, but a top Turkish official said Ankara had "no interest" in declaring war on its neighbor, according to various reports.

Turkey began artillery attacks Wednesday on Syrian positions near the border district of Tal Abyad, Syrian opposition representatives said, and the Turkish bombardment reportedly continued early Thursday.

A top aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on his Twitter account that a full-blown war with Syria was not Ankara's aim, Turkey's English-language Hurriyet Daily News reported on its website.

"Turkey has no interest in a war with Syria," wrote Ibrahim Kalin, according to Hurriyet. “But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary."

Turkish officials seemed satisfied that the artillery fire had signaled their outrage about Syrian shelling inside Turkey that caused several deaths. Turkey's move followed a number of Syrian actions that the Turks viewed as provocative, including the downing of a Turkish fighter jet over the eastern Mediterranean in June, killing two pilots.

Still unclear is how Syria will respond to the Turkish bombardment.

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Georgia President Saakashvili concedes election defeat

Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western president of Georgia faced with increasing protests among his people, conceded defeat after preliminary election returns showed the opposition had won control of parliament and the right to name a powerful new prime minister
TBILISI, Georgia -- Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western president of Georgia faced with increasing protests among his people, conceded defeat Tuesday after preliminary election returns showed the opposition had won control of parliament and the right to name a powerful new prime minister.

In a televised address, the 44-year-old leader acknowledged that the Georgian Dream coalition led by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili had won, and said his own United National Movement would become the opposition.

"You know well that the views of this coalition were and still remain fundamentally unacceptable for me," he said, "but democracy works in a way that allows the Georgian people to make a decision by a majority."

With nearly half the ballots counted by Tuesday afternoon, the Central Election Commission reported that Georgian Dream had 54.1% of the vote to 41% for Saakashvili's movement.

Ivanishvili said Tuesday in televised remarks that after all the votes are counted, his coalition would most likely control at least 100 of the 150 seats in parliament. The tycoon said he would seek the post of prime minister and that the entire Cabinet would be replaced.

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Afghan authorities raise death toll to 20 in motorcycle bombing

Afghan authorities raised the death toll in a suicide bombing to at least 20 people, including three coalition soldiers they identified as Americans
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan authorities raised the death toll in a suicide bombing Monday to at least 20 people, including three coalition soldiers they identified as Americans.

The attack occurred when a bomber aboard a motorcycle rammed into a convoy of NATO and Afghan forces carrying out a joint patrol in the eastern city of Khowst, local authorities said. Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred about 8:30 a.m. in the middle of a bustling plaza.

Abdul Jabar Nahimi, governor for Khowst province, said the blast killed 10 Afghan civilians and six Afghan police officers, in addition to the three Americans and an Afghan interpreter. More than 60 other people were injured, including three Afghan police officers.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization had confirmed the deaths of the coalition soldiers and the Afghan interpreter in an earlier statement, but did not immediately release the nationalities of the soldiers killed.

Khowst is one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous provinces, perched on the border of Pakistan's volatile tribal areas that serve as sanctuary for some Afghan insurgents. In December 2009, the province was the scene of a suicide bombing of a CIA base that killed seven the intelligence agency's employees and contractors.

Joint patrols have become one of the most controversial aspects of the uneasy partnership between Washington and Kabul, as both sides prepare for the handoff of security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. So-called insider attacks -- members of Afghan security forces killing their coalition counterparts -- have claimed the lives of more than 50 U.S. and coalition troops this year.

In reaction to the jump in insider attacks, NATO earlier this month temporarily suspended joint operations with Afghan security forces, allowing them only if they were approved by a high-ranking regional commander. Though the restrictions remain in place, U.S. officials say cooperation on joint operations has resumed.


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Photo: Afghan police search people at a roadside checkpoint Monday following a suicide bomb attack targeting a convoy of NATO and Afghan soldiers in Khowst. Credit: Shah Noorani / EPA

NATO investigates killing of U.S. soldier, contractor in Afghanistan

Afghnistan-bradshawISLAMABAD, Pakistan — NATO forces Sunday were investigating whether the weekend shooting deaths of a U.S. soldier and an American civilian contractor in Afghanistan were the result of an insider attack or linked to insurgent gunfire.

If confirmed as an insider attack, it would be the latest in a disturbing surge of so-called “green-on-blue” killings that have threatened collaboration between Afghan and NATO forces ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.

The attack, which occurred late afternoon Saturday in the eastern province of Wardak, came just days after top U.S. military officials had said joint operations between U.S. and Afghan forces were resuming following a temporary halt imposed by the U.S. because of the rising number of insider attacks.

Gen. Abdul Qayuum Baqizoi, Wardak’s police chief, said gunfire broke out between NATO and Afghan army troops at a checkpoint in the province’s Sayedabad district. Three other NATO soldiers were injured in the gunfight. Three of the seven Afghan army soldiers deployed at the checkpoint were killed in the gunfire, Baqizoi said. A “misunderstanding” led to the incident,” Baqizoi added, but he would not elaborate.

On Sunday morning, a short statement issued by NATO described the incident as “a suspected insider attack.” A joint NATO-Afghan security force investigation into the attack was underway, according to the statement.

However, at a news conference early Sunday evening, Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, a deputy coalition forces commander, said NATO and Afghan military officials were still trying to determine whether the incident was triggered by firing from insurgents, adding that the “circumstances were somewhat confused.”

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Insurgents kill two NATO troops in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed two foreign troops in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, according to NATO and Afghan officials.

Din Mohammad Darwesh, the governor's spokesperson in Logar province, said the bomber targeted a vehicle inside a NATO convoy that was on its way to a nearby district. Although the NATO-led international military coalition declined to give further details on the casualties, citing policy, Darwesh said both of those killed were Americans, one immediately and one who died of his wounds a short while later. A third soldier was injured, he added.

Wednesday's deaths bring the number of coalition fatalities to at least 3,190, including 2,123 Americans, since the war started in 2001, according to

On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that his country has made progress after decades of war, but that it still has a ways to go. "Our achievements have not come about easily," he said. "The Afghan people continue to pay the biggest price any nation has paid -- in both life and treasure."

Insurgents in Afghanistan remain heavily reliant on homemade bombs when carrying out attacks, although the coalition says it's seen growing success foiling such attacks. More than half of all roadside bombs and mines were discovered and cleared before they detonated between January and July, NATO said in its monthly casualty report for August, while those that detonated were down 14% compared with the January-July 2011 period.

Insurgent attacks involving weapons other than homemade bombs -- including those involving machine guns and surface-to-air missiles -- fell 9% in August after hitting a 10-month peak in June. Afghanistan's poppy-growing season, when many insurgents head off to tend their crop, was shorter than usual this year, the coalition said, leading to an earlier-than-normal fighting season in May and June. That pushed everything up, it added, leading to diminished violence in July and August.

But significant regional differences remain. Though there were fewer such enemy attacks in Kabul and in the eastern, southern and southwestern parts of the country between January and August, attacks rose in northern and western Afghanistan.

NATO said that in August, insurgents were responsible for 98% of all civilian deaths and injuries -- a politically sensitive issue -- in those cases where responsibility could be determined.

The insurgents' continued heavy reliance on roadside and suicide bombs is evident in the daily report of incidents produced by the coalition.

On Wednesday, NATO said that an orphaned Afghan boy in Helmand province who was approximately 11 years old -- not knowing your exact age isn't unusual in south Asia -- managed to escape from insurgents planning to use him as a suicide bomber.

The boy, whose name was not given, reportedly told Afghan police that the insurgents gave him money hoping to persuade him to wear a suicide vest and detonate himself near NATO or Afghan army forces, which he refused to do.

NATO also reported Wednesday the arrest earlier in the week of an insurgent leader in eastern Khost province suspected of planning and coordinating roadside bombing attacks throughout the region. The coalition added in a statement that he was responsible for distributing significant quantities of explosives and weapons and for training other insurgents to use homemade bombs.

At the time of his arrest, he may have been trying to infiltrate the Afghan security forces, the coalition added, although it was not immediately clear why a regional leader would be inserting himself into the Afghan armed forces rather than using underlings.

Attacks by Afghan police and troops, as well as insurgents using stolen or otherwise acquired Afghan uniforms, have increased in recent months, sowing distrust between Afghan and coalition forces.

Also on Wednesday, NATO forces reported, a Taliban homemade bomb expert was arrested in eastern Ghazni district. The coalition also reported that Taliban leader Malang was killed Tuesday in a "precision airstrike" in central Wardak province.


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