A Veteran Afghan military pilot said to be distressed over his personal finances opened fire at Kabul airport after an argument yesterday, killing eight US troops and an American civilian contractor.
Those killed were trainers and advisers for the nascent Afghan air force. The shooting was the deadliest attack by a member of the Afghan security forces, or an insurgent impersonating them, on coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or policemen. There have been seven such attacks so far this year.
Although the individual circumstances may differ, the incidents of Afghans turning against their coalition partners seem to reflect growing anti-foreigner sentiment independent of the Taliban. Afghans are increasingly tired of the nearly decade-long war and think their lives have not improved despite billions of dollars in international aid.
The Taliban, who are currently staging their opening salvos of the spring fighting season, boasted that the gunman in Wednesday’s airport attack was a militant impersonating an army officer.
This claim did not seem credible, however.
Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said the gunman was an officer who had served as a pilot in the Afghan military for the past 20 years. The gunman – identified as Ahmad Gul, 48, of Tarakhail district in Kabul province – died in an exchange of fire that followed his attack.
The gunman’s brother insisted he was not a Taliban sympathiser.
“He was under economic pressures and recently he sold his house. He was not in a normal frame of mind because of these pressures,” said the brother, Doctor Mohammad Hassan Sahibi. “He was going through a very difficult period of time in his life.”
“He served his country for years,” Sahibi told Tolo, a private television station in Kabul. “He loved his people and his country. He had no link with Taliban or al-Qaeda.”
Sahibi said his brother was wounded four or five times during his military service, once seriously when his helicopter crashed.
The shooting took place at 10:25 am at Kabul’s airport. The gunman opened fire at a meeting in an operations room at the Afghan Air Corps following an argument with foreigners, Afghan defence officials said.
It was unclear what the argument was about.
“Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started,” said Afghan Air Corps spokesman Colonel 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.”
Five Afghan soldiers were injured. At least one Afghan soldier was shot – in the wrist – but most of the soldiers suffered broken bones and cuts, Bahader said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the shooting and offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims.
Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who leads the NATO training mission, called the deaths of nine trainers a “tragic loss.”
NATO officials said the Taliban are quick to take credit for any attack that results in the death of pro-government forces. They say militants want to undermine trust between coalition and Afghan forces, who are increasingly partnered as the Afghans prepare to take the lead in securing the nation by the end of 2014.
Last year, there were 10,400 partnered operations – up from 530 in 2009, the coalition said.
Increased partnering has created bonds, but also friction among troops who have drastically different lifestyles, cultures and religion. Some coalition troops have expressed exasperation at their less professional Afghan partners. Increased nationalistic rhetoric uttered by the Afghan president also has fuelled the rising anti-American sentiment among Afghans. Agencies