KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan army soldier shot and killed two French NATO troops Thursday, the French government said in what was the latest attack by members of Afghan security forces against their coalition partners.
A statement from the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said a soldier in the Afghan National Army opened fire on the two, who were serving with the 2nd regiment of the Foreign Legion.
This year has been the deadliest for French forces in Afghanistan since the international operation began there in 2001. Thursday’s deaths bring to 26 the number of French troops killed this year, and 78 over the entire 10-year conflict.
They also bring the December toll for NATO troops killed in Afghanistan to 25, while the year’s toll so far is 541. The yearly total is considerably lower than for 2010, when more than 700 troops died. The number of wounded has remained high, dipping only slightly from last year’s total of more than 5,000 service members.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on the French in an email, identifying the attacker as Mohammed Ibrahim. He said the attack was carried out at a base in Shamshad, located in eastern Kapisa province, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Kabul.
Mujahid added that the attacker, Ibrahim, was then gunned down by other troops.
In Paris, French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said an Afghan soldier opened fire on the two French troops, mortally wounding them. French forces fired back and killed the assailant.
Burkhard said the soldier was stationed in the area where French forces operate in the east, and that it was the first ever such incident in the French zone. Both NATO and Afghan forces were investigating.
On Tuesday, three NATO troops were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan. The alliance provided no further details, but the Taliban claimed the victims were U.S. soldiers who were riding in a military convoy when a roadside bomb exploded next to their vehicle.
There was no independent confirmation of that claim.
Also Thursday, a roadside bomb killed 10 Afghan police officers and wounded another in a restive district of southwestern Helmand province, which NATO had recently turned over, with much fanfare, to Afghan security control. In a call to The Associated Press, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the Helmand attack.
The explosion destroyed a police pickup truck as it drove through Zarghun Kalay village in Helmand’s Nad Ali district, according to a spokesman for the provincial governor, Daud Ahmadi, and police chief Haji Abdul Marjan.
Both officials said the officers had left a training center and were headed home when their vehicle was blow up by insurgents. Marjan said they drove along the same road every day, while Ahmadi said eight of those killed were new recruits.
Nad Ali, which had been run by British troops, was one of the districts in Helmand that last month transitioned from NATO to Afghan security control.
The handover was the second step in a transition that President Hamid Karzai hopes will leave Afghan forces in control of the entire country by the end of 2014, when the U.S.-led coalition’s combat mission is scheduled to end.
However, shootings such as the one in the east — where the attackers are either Afghan soldiers who turn on NATO troops, or reported insurgents dressed in Afghan uniforms — have raised fears of increased Taliban infiltration of the Afghan police and army as NATO speeds up the training of the security forces.
Last week, an Afghan soldier opened fire on coalition troops inside an outpost in western Herat province, wounding a number of alliance troops. The attacker was killed in the incident.
NATO’s training mission hopes have about 350,000 troops trained and ready by the end of 2014.
Eastern Afghanistan has become the focus of coalition efforts against insurgents, who infiltrate into Afghanistan across the rugged frontier from safe havens in neighboring Pakistan. The U.S. and its allies have asked Pakistan to crack down on the safe haves in that country’s lawless tribal areas, but relations between the two militaries have reached rock bottom following a NATO cross-border attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last month.
Associated Press Writers Mirwais Khan contributed to this story from Kandahar, Afghanistan; and Sarah DiLorenzo from Paris.