KABUL (Reuters) - Six NATO troops were shot dead by a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform during a training exercise in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, the coalition said, the worst apparent “rogue” shooting in more than a year.
The incident appeared to be the latest in a string of recent attacks by renegade police and soldiers, underlining the pressure on NATO-led troops as they try to train Afghan forces rapidly to allow the handover of security responsibility from next year.
However, NATO and Afghan officials were unable to confirm whether the person who carried out the shooting was actually a member of the border police or if it was an insurgent who had infiltrated the Afghan security forces.
Afghan authorities said last year they were tightening vetting procedures for the police and army after a similar incident when a renegade soldier killed five British troops on November 3, 2009.
Aminullah Amarkhil, the head of border police in eastern Afghanistan, said the shooting was in Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan. Most of the NATO troops based in Nangarhar are American.
“An individual in an Afghan Border Police uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Forces during a training mission today, killing six service members in eastern Afghanistan,” the NATO-led ISAF said in a statement.
The statement said the person who shot the troops was also killed. ISAF said the shooting was being investigated but it gave no other details, including the nationality of those killed.
It was the worst daily casualty toll suffered by ISAF since eight troops were killed in five separate incidents on October 14.
Earlier this month, U.S. and NATO leaders agreed to a timeline set by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for foreign forces to end combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who will review his Afghanistan war strategy next month, has said Washington will begin a gradual drawdown of its forces from July 2011.
Obama and NATO leaders have come under increasing domestic pressure over the unpopular war, with military and civilian casualties at their worst levels since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.
At least 2,238 foreign troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban government was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in November 2001, more than 660 of them so far in 2010, by far the bloodiest year of the war.
About 1,400 of the deaths were Americans.
At least 56 ISAF troops were killed in November, according to a count by Reuters and monitoring site iCasualties.org. The push to ramp up Afghan forces has created tensions on the ground. Three ISAF troops were shot by an Afghan soldier in the south earlier this month.
Two Spanish police and an interpreter were killed in August when an Afghan policeman they were training turned on them before he was shot dead.
In July, an Afghan soldier killed three British Gurkha soldiers. A week later, an Afghan soldier killed two U.S. contractors inside a base in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.
The rapid creation of a national army and police force since the Taliban were ousted has seen tens of thousands of Afghans join up, raising concerns that former insurgents, or sympathizers, may be among them.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Daniel Magnowski