Three Spaniards killed in Afghan "rogue" attack

Three Spaniards killed in Afghan "rogue" attack
# 26 August 2010 02:55 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Two Spanish police and an interpreter were killed by an Afghan policeman they were training on Wednesday, an untimely attack as questions grow over the readiness of Afghan forces to take over from foreign troops, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
The shootings at a remote Spanish-run base in Afghanistan’s northwest appeared to be the latest in a string of recent attacks by "rogue" police and soldiers, underlining the pressure as NATO-led troops try to train Afghan forces rapidly to allow the handover of security responsibility to begin from next July.
It came a day after the top U.S. Marine, General James Conway, said President Barack Obama’s timeline to begin withdrawing troops had given a morale boost to Taliban insurgents who believe they can wait out foreign forces.
With U.S. public opinion of the conflict souring as casualties rise, Conway’s unusually blunt assessment will likely fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of congressional elections in November and a strategy review a month later.
Wednesday’s attack sparked a protest by hundreds of angry Afghans outside the base in Qalay-e Naw, the provincial capital of northwestern Badghis province.
"The incident took place during a police training course and two Spanish policemen and an interpreter of Spanish nationality lost their lives," Spain’s Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Spanish radio.
"The security forces responded to the attack and shot and killed the assassin," he said.
Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, despite the presence of almost 150,000 foreign troops.
The Taliban-led insurgency has spread out of traditional strongholds in the south and east into once peaceful areas in the north and west, forcing NATO-led troops to step up operations.
Badghis governor Dilbar Jan Arman said at least 1,000 protesters tried to storm the base, which lies near the border with Turkmenistan. Spanish officials disputed that number.
Mohammad Sadiq, a surgeon at a government hospital in Qalay-e Naw, said at least 18 demonstrators, many suffering bullet wounds, had been brought in for treatment.
He said several of the wounded were in critical condition. Television pictures showed one Afghan man bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound.
Protesters accused troops inside the base of firing on them.
"After the attack, a group of Afghan citizens approached the base and some attempted assaults on the base occurred, which were repelled by Afghan soldiers and policemen," Rubalcaba later told reporters.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the reason for the initial shooting remained unclear. It confirmed there had been a protest outside the base.
Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said the policeman had been a member of the Islamist group, although the Taliban often claim responsibility for incidents involving the deaths of foreign troops, who they want out of Afghanistan.
NATO-led forces are ramping up efforts to train the Afghan army and police to eventually take over, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai setting an ambitious target of 2014 for Afghan forces to take over security responsibility from foreign troops.
Tensions between Afghans and their foreign trainers have also increased, with Wednesday’s attack the third such incident in the past month.
Doubts also surfaced this week among U.S. commanders about Obama’s timetable to begin withdrawals, as well as the likely readiness of Afghan forces.
"In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance," Conway told reporters in Washington on Tuesday, referring to Obama’s July 2011 timeline.
Afghan officials agreed.
"There is still a threat which unfortunately has not been eliminated, and the withdrawal (deadline) will ... invigorate the terrorists," said Karzai’s spokesman Siamak Herawi.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimy said the withdrawal of foreign troops "should be based on the capability of the Afghan security forces."
Supporters of Obama’s withdrawal plan, conditions permitting, say it conveys a much-needed sense of urgency to Kabul. Critics say the strategy has backfired, sending a signal to the Taliban that the United States was preparing to wind down the war.
With Obama’s strategy review and the important congressional elections looming, an unnerving number of his military commanders have acknowledged the challenges that lay ahead.
Such comments appear to minimize the likelihood of any substantial change in the conflict by next July.
U.S. Lieutenant General William Caldwell, in charge of training Afghan forces, said big hurdles remained and that it will take until late October 2011 to build up Afghanistan’s police and military before they can take over in more than just isolated pockets of the country.