Two American Officers Killed At Afghan Ministry

Two American military officers were shot and killed today in the heavily guarded Interior Ministry building in Kabul. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz speaks to Kabul bureau chief Quil Lawrence about the shootings, which follow five days of riots and protests over the burning of Koran's at a NATO base earlier this week.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

In Kabul earlier today, two American military officers - both advisers to the Afghan Interior Ministry - were shot dead inside that heavily guarded building apparently at close range. The killings come as Afghans have protested for a fifth straight day over the recent burnings of several Qurans at a NATO military base in Bagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

RAZ: Religious Muslims believe the Quran is the literal word of God, and its desecration is considered blasphemous.

NPR's Quil Lawrence joins me now from Kabul. And, Quil, let's start with those killings earlier today. What happened?

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Well, the details are still sketchy. We heard reports of gunshots within the Afghan Interior Ministry. And then later, further details that it was inside a heavily secured area within the Interior Ministry, behind several layers of security. We have confirmed that it was two Americans, officers - we believe a colonel and a major - who were killed.

But after that, there isn't a whole lot of detail. We have sources in the Afghan government saying that they believe it was possibly a westerner involved, that the perpetrator might have been a westerner. But then we have sources from NATO, American sources, saying that it was not a westerner. But no one's saying exactly who the perpetrator was. He's believed to still be at large.

RAZ: And no word on how that perpetrator got in or those perpetrators got into that heavily guarded building.

LAWRENCE: There's just a lot of speculation that that person either was able to breach the security or had access to the security.

RAZ: Quil, these military advisers, this is a regular thing, right? I mean, top U.S. NATO advisers go to Afghan ministries and meet with their counterparts every day, right?

LAWRENCE: There are hundreds of them in Kabul in every ministry. And this is supposed to be the evolving role of the international force here is to advise and train in many levels. But these are officials from NATO who are meeting with ministers and deputy ministers, and they're inside what had been considered pretty safe Afghan government buildings.

RAZ: Do we know if this was related in any way to the burning of the Qurans earlier this week?

LAWRENCE: There's a lot of conjecture that it must have been. There has been generally an uptick of these sort of attacks where Afghan soldiers in many cases - in one earlier this week, an Afghan soldier killed two American soldiers at the scene of a protest in Nangarhar province in the east. So there's been a general uptick of this, along with a general feeling of increased anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan coming as they do this week, on the fifth day of protests and something that has enraged Afghans from every walk of life, the reported burnings of these Qurans. We're speculating that it was, but we - again, we don't know the exact details.

RAZ: Quil, I understand that NATO has now withdrawn all of its advisors from Afghan ministries. How will today's attacks affect this kind of advisory work?

LAWRENCE: Well, this all comes in the midst of negotiations about the enduring American, the enduring NATO role here. The U.S. and Afghanistan are in a process of negotiating a strategic partnership agreement that would determine how many troops are going to stay here in an advisory role past 2014. And this tension is certainly going to put a lot of different kinds of pressure on those negotiations.

RAZ: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence in Kabul. Quil, thanks so much.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Guy.

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