KABUL, Afghanistan – The commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan on Saturday withdrew all NATO personnel from government ministries in and around Kabul after two U.S. soldiers were killed inside the Afghan Interior Ministry.
The killings came on the fifth day of violent protests over the apparently inadvertent burning of Qurans and other religious materials at Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan. They also are the latest in a rising number of attacks on members of the U.S.-led international force by Afghan security force members, known in U.S. military parlance as “green on blue” incidents.
Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, condemned the attack and announced the personnel recall. U.S. military officials confirmed that two coalition personnel had been killed but did not say whether they were American, and added that they were still gathering information. A high-ranking Interior Ministry source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed the dead were Americans.
The Associated Press, citing Afghan and Western officials, said the U.S. servicemen – a lieutenant colonel and a major – were found dead on the floor of an office that only people who know a numerical combination can get into.
Allen’s order to recall troops indicated that U.S. commanders are deeply concerned about the safety of American military personnel assigned as advisers to government ministries, including the defense and interior ministries, which sit at the heart of the Obama administration’s strategy of building up Afghan security forces as U.S.-led international combat forces withdraw by the end of 2014.
The Taliban was quick in claiming responsibility for the killings. In a statement, the group said the attack was carried out by a “holy warrior” named Abdul Rahman and cited the recent burning of Qurans and other Islamic religious materials by American soldiers at Bagram Air Base.
Earlier this week, two U.S. soldiers were shot dead by a man wearing an Afghan national army uniform in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province during protests over the Quran burnings.
Anti-American riots across the country the past week have left nearly 30 people dead and hundreds wounded. President Barack Obama apologized this week to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the Quran burnings.
The rising violence over the Quran burnings appears to underscore the massive frustration and anger among ordinary Afghans over the failure of the U.S.-led international forces to subdue the Taliban-led insurgency a decade after the U.S. invasion. The White House and U.S. commanders claim significant progress against the Taliban. But U.S. intelligence officials question whether that progress is sustainable as U.S. forces draw down, while other experts point out that the Taliban still control or influence large sections of the country.
On Saturday, four demonstrators were killed and more than 50 were wounded in protests outside the United Nations compound in Kunduz, said the director of city’s health department, Dr. Saad Mukhtar.
Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, the spokesman for the Kunduz chief of police, said three Taliban were among demonstrators in Saturday’s protest in Kunduz who were arrested by police.
Hussaini confirmed that 11 police officers were also wounded in the clash.
In Laghman province, 26 were injured, including four police and two intelligence officers, when several hundred protesters tried to force their way into the governor’s compound, said the police chief of Laghman, Gen. Abdul Rahman Sarjang.