Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan National Army soldiers kept watch at the gate of the Afghan air force compound in Kabul on Wednesday after an officer attacked NATO troops.
Afghan National Army soldiers kept watch at the gate of the Afghan air force compound in Kabul on Wednesday after an officer attacked NATO troops. Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan air force pilot opened fire Wednesday on NATO soldiers and trainers in Kabul, killing eight soldiers and one contractor before being gunned down. Five Afghan soldiers were also injured.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said all nine of those killed were Americans.
The attack was the latest in a string of attacks by men in Afghan military uniform, but it's unclear if the assailant was a Taliban agent.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said the pilot fired on the Americans after an argument in an operations room of the Afghan Air Corps at Kabul airport.
"Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started," said Afghan Air Corps spokesman Col. Bahader, who uses only one name. "After the shooting started, we saw a number of Afghan army officers and soldiers running out of the building. Some were even throwing themselves out of the windows to get away."
An Afghan pilot who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the gunman as Ahmad Gul Sahibi from Tarakhail district of Kabul province.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the shooting and offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims. He said those killed were trainers and advisers for the Afghan air force. The president ordered his defense and security officials to investigate the recent incidents to determine why they occurred.
It was the seventh time so far this year that members of the Afghan security forces, or insurgents impersonating them, have killed coalition soldiers or members of the Afghan security forces.
Soon after the incident, a Taliban spokesman, interviewed by phone, claimed the shooter was a long-time operative.
Zabiullah Mujahid gave some convincing personal details about the attack and claimed that Sahibi had been an informant who was waiting for an opportunity to kill foreigners. The Taliban spokesman said the attack demonstrated the insurgents' ability to strike even within the most protected ministries and bases across the country.
Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sahibi, the brother of the shooter, said his brother had been battling financial troubles. But Sahibi said his brother had no ties to insurgents.
"He was 48 years old," Sahibi told Tolo, a private television station in Kabul, "He served his country for years. He loved his people and his country. He had no link with Taliban or al-Qaida.
"He was under economic pressures and recently he sold his house. He was going through a very difficult period of time in his life."
However, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said the gunman was an Afghan military pilot of 20 years.
"An argument happened between him and the foreigners and we have to investigate that," Azimi said.
Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks on government and military installations across Afghanistan.
On April 18, an insurgent managed to sneak past security at the heavily fortified Afghan Defense Ministry compound in the capital and killed two Afghan soldiers and an officer.
Two days before that, an Afghan soldier walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform. The blast, the worst before Wednesday's shooting, killed six American troops, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter.
On April, 15, a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters complex, killing the top law enforcement officer in the restive southern province.
In northwest Afghanistan, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot and killed two American military personnel on April 4 in Faryab. The gunman was upset over the recent burning of the Quran at a Florida church, according to NATO intelligence officials.
In February, an Afghan soldier, who felt he had been personally offended by his German partners, shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others in the northern province of Baghlan.
In January, an Afghan solider killed an Italian soldier and wounded another in Badghis province. The two soldiers were cleaning their weapons at a combat outpost when an Afghan soldier approached them with an M16 rifle and asked to use their equipment to clean his gun. The Italians saw that the Afghan soldier's rifle was loaded and asked him to unload it, at which point the Afghan soldier shot the two Italians and escaped from the base.
Before the airport shooting, the coalition had recorded 20 incidents since March 2009 where a member of the Afghan security forces or someone wearing a uniform used by them attacked coalition forces, killing a total of 36. It is not known how many of the 282,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in these type of incidents.
According to information compiled by NATO, half of the 20 incidents involved the impersonation of an Afghan policeman or soldier. The cause of the other 10 incidents was attributed to combat stress or unknown reasons. NATO said that so far, there is no solid evidence despite Taliban assertions that any insurgent has joined the Afghan security forces for the sole purpose of conducting attacks on coalition or Afghan forces.
NPR's Quil Lawrence contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.