KABUL, Afghanistan – Like hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, he volunteered in the national army, ran drills in the mud, carried an automatic rifle and worked alongside coalition mentors struggling against a hardcore insurgency. But he was not one of them.
On Saturday, he walked into a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in the eastern province of Laghman and detonated a vest of explosives hidden underneath his uniform.
Five NATO troopers, four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed in the assault.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and said the soldier was a sleeper agent who joined the army a month ago, a contention confirmed by an Afghan army official.
“Today, when there was a meeting going on between Afghan and foreign soldiers, he used the opportunity to carry out the attack,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email.
Attacks by insurgents donning security uniforms are a relatively rare but recurrent problem as NATO and Afghan forces work more closely together. Afghanistan’s security forces are also ramping up recruitment of Afghan soldiers and policemen so they can take the lead in securing their nation by the end of 2014.
Afghan security forces are supposed to be vetted by past employers or even village elders, but in a country where unemployment is about 35 percent, the literacy rate is about 28 percent and computerized record-keeping is a novelty, background checks are often rudimentary.
The explosion took place at 7:30 a.m., as many people on the base were beginning the morning shift and as NATO and Afghan service members conducted what military officials call a “key leader engagement” meeting, according to a NATO spokesman.
NATO declined to provide further information about its soldiers killed in the blast, pending notification of their next of kin.
Until Saturday, the worst case of a sleeper agent attack was in November, when an Afghan border policeman shot to death six American soldiers before he himself was shot to death in the eastern province of Nangahar. The policeman had been in the force for three years and had accompanied American troopers for about three months when he opened fire on them.