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A manhunt is under way for the renegade Afghan soldier who opened fire on British troops inside a joint operating base in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province Tuesday, killing three British troops, wounding four others, and shaking confidence in the Afghan security services.
The Daily Record reports that the attacker, believed to be a sergeant in the Afghan National Army (ANA), struck the Royal Gurkha Rifles, a mainly Nepalese unit, at the Babaji forward base in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand Province using a combination of weapons including small arms, an AK-47, and rocket-propelled grenades.
One soldier, a British national, was shot dead while sleeping in his bunk. Two more – one British national and one Nepali – were killed when the soldier fired on the base’s operations room with rocket-propelled grenades. That attack injured four more soldiers.
Afghan authorities have pledged to launch a joint investigation into the incident with the International Security and Assistance Force.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said the attack appeared to be “premeditated,” but both the UK and NATO have been quick to reaffirm their faith in the Afghan security forces, reports The Guardian. A NATO spokesman said he believed the attacker was acting on his own and that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan Army would find him.
"We believe these were the actions of a lone individual who has betrayed his ISAF and Afghan comrades," Lt. Col. James Carr-Smith, a spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said in a statement. “His whereabouts are currently unknown, but we are making strenuous efforts to find him. He should know that his actions will not deter us from our task and we will continue to work closely with our Afghan friends to bring security to Helmand.”
The motives and mental state of the killer, who fled the scene, aren’t yet known. Was he mentally disturbed or suffering from combat stress? Was he a Taliban plant? Or someone who joined the Army to fight the Taliban, but later had a change of heart?
This is not the first incident, however. In November 2009, an Afghan police officer manning a checkpoint in Helmand shot and killed five British soldiers, while just one month later an Afghan soldier shot and killed one US soldier and wounded two Italians at a base in Badghis.
Coalition forces have been attacked three times in the past eight months by Afghans they were supposed to be training. Each attack takes a toll on troop morale in the field, and make it harder to convince the folks back home that the war can be won. One soldier, speaking anonymously to The Guardian, called working with the ANA “a nightmare.”
"Not only do we have to watch from the front … but we have to watch from the back as well,” he said. “You've been out on patrol all day, or fighting a battle, and you come back and you're trying to relax and get some down time and you have got to be watching out for them."
But coalition troops have no choice but to work with the Afghan National Army. Agence France-Presse reports that building up Afghanistan’s capability to provide security for itself is vital to ending Western engagement there.
"There is no alternative to training a strong Afghan army and security force which can replace foreign troops in the long run," said political analyst Mohammad Younus Fakur.
"The enemy will try to use this (attacks on Western military) as a permanent tactic to create mistrust among forces who fight alongside each other, and that could be disastrous for the friendly forces."
The attack brings the total number of British casualties in Afghanistan to 318, according to icasualties.org.