KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan policeman hurled a grenade and opened fire on a U.S. military foot patrol in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing an American soldier and raising fears that insurgents have infiltrated the police.
It was the second attack by a policeman on U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan in less than a month.
The patrol was returning to a base in Bermel district of Paktika province when they were attacked by the policeman, who was standing on a tower, the military said. The soldiers returned fire, killing the officer.
Training of the police force and the Afghan national army are key elements in the U.S. strategy of dealing with a vicious Taliban-led insurgency that has spread in many parts of the country.
Militants in Afghanistan have in the past disguised themselves in police or army uniforms when attacking Afghan and foreign troops, but real policemen were responsible for the attacks Thursday and last month. Then, an officer opened fire at a Paktika police station, killing a soldier and wounding three before he was fatally shot.
The two provinces with similar names are both close to the lawless Pakistani border area and are the site of nearly daily clashes between insurgents and American troops.
Assadullah Sherzad, the police chief of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, said an airstrike by foreign forces Thursday killed a number of people including several women and children. He said he did not know the overall death toll.
Haji Adnan Khan, a tribal leader in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, said he saw 18 bodies that angry villagers had taken to the steps of the governor's house. He said there might be more bodies trapped under the rubble.
An Associated Press photograph shows what appears to be at least seven bodies completely wrapped in blankets in the back of a truck.
NATO-led troops said in a statement that they were aware of an airstrike Thursday in Nad Ali district but are "are unable to confirm any civilian casualties."
Insurgents kept up their assault Thursday on Lashkar Gah. They fired a rocket that landed on a street lined with shops, killing a civilian and wounding five others, said Daud Ahmadi, the spokesman for the provincial governor.
The attack followed two other assaults this week on the security checkpoints that ring the city. More than 80 militants were killed and three police were wounded.
The attacks on the city, the capital of the world's largest opium producing region, appears to signal the Taliban's intention to disrupt a major government center.
Large-scale Taliban attacks on major Afghan towns have been rare since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Fighting typically takes place in small villages and rural areas.
The issue of civilian casualties at the hands of foreign troops has caused friction between President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. and other Western backers. Karzai has for years warned the U.S. and NATO that it must stop killing civilians in its bombing runs, saying such deaths undermine his government and the international mission.
The Afghan government says 90 civilians were killed during a U.S. special forces raid in a village in the western Herat province on Aug. 22.
A U.S. military investigation found that 33 civilians died in the raid, and concluded that the troops involved acted in line with their rules of engagement.
Insurgency-related violence has killed more than 4,800 people — mostly militants — this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials.
Meanwhile, Germany's parliament granted final approval Thursday to an extension of the country's military mission in Afghanistan for 14 more months and allow for the immediate deployment of an additional 1,000 troops.
A U.S.-led coalition member was killed and several others were wounded also in eastern Afghanistan after "a possible errant mortar round" aimed for insurgents hit their patrol, the U.S. military said. The statement did not say where it happened.