KABUL, Afghanistan – A gunman in an Afghan police uniform killed two British soldiers in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, a day after insurgents dressed in U.S. Army uniforms attacked a military base, killing two American Marines, wounding nine other people and destroying six Harrier fighter jets, military officials said.
Britain's defense minister said the two soldiers, from 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, were killed at a checkpoint shooting in Nahri Sarraj district of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban have their strongest roots. NATO said earlier that the gunman was wearing a uniform used by the Afghan Local Police, a village-level fighting force overseen by the central government.
They were the latest deaths in a surge of insider attacks that are fracturing trust between Afghan forces and their international partners.
So far this year, 47 international service members have died at the hands of Afghan soldiers or policemen or insurgents wearing their uniforms. At least 12 such attacks came in August alone, leaving 15 dead and raising concerns that the country will not be able to take charge of its own security as planned by 2014.
The insider attack came a day after insurgents conducted a brazen attack on Camp Bastion, a sprawling British base, also in Helmand province. Nine personnel with the U.S.-led coalition — eight military and one contractor — were wounded in the attack, but none of their injuries are life-threatening.
Coalition military authorities said in a statement issued early Sunday that the assault was carried out by about 15 insurgents who appeared to be "well equipped, trained and rehearsed." Fourteen of the 15 were killed. The other insurgent was wounded and detained.
They said the attackers were armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests. Besides destroying the six jets, they demolished three refueling stations on the base and damaged six aircraft hangars.
The attack began shortly after 10 p.m. Friday when the insurgents, organized into three teams, penetrated the perimeter fence of the camp and attacked planes and helicopters parked at the base, aircraft hangars and other buildings, the coalition said. Six AV-8B Harrier jets were destroyed and two others were significantly damaged.
Jamie Graybeal, a coalition spokesman, confirmed that two U.S. Marines died in the attack. He said two insurgents wearing suicide vests took part in the assault, although he did not say whether they blew themselves up.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it wanted to avenge Muslims insulted by the amateurish film that mocked the Prophet Muhammad — the main motivator in a string of protests across the region this past week — and also because Britain's Prince Harry is serving on the base.
A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defense said Harry, third in line to the British throne, was unharmed in the attack, which according to Britain's Press Association took place two kilometers (one mile) from the section of the complex where he was staying. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
The prince is serving a four-month combat deployment as a gunner on an Apache helicopter. Harry, who turned 28 on Saturday, is set to start flying Apache missions this week, and Britain's defense ministry did not plan to cut short the deployment after the attack. This is his second tour in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's southern region has been a hotbed of the insurgency and attacks against foreign forces that occur daily, although the Taliban have largely been routed in the country's capital and its larger towns. Helmand remains an active battlefield between insurgents and NATO forces and for years has been the site of some of the war's bloodiest engagements.
In addition to the near-daily bombings and attacks, Afghans have staged two anti-American protests against the anti-Islamic film.
On Saturday, a few hundred university students protested in the eastern city of Khost, shouting "Death to America" and burning an effigy of President Barack Obama. A larger demonstration was held Friday in Nangarhar province, also in the east.
The Afghan government blocked video-sharing web site YouTube to prevent Afghans from viewing a clip of the anti-Muslim film, said Khair Mohammad Faizi, a spokesman for the Communication Ministry. He said it would remain blocked until the video is taken down. Other Google services, including Gmail, were also blocked in Afghanistan during parts of Friday and Saturday.
In other violence on Saturday, a police vehicle hit a roadside bomb during a routine patrol in Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, killing a police inspector and wounding two other policemen, Kandahar provincial spokesman Jawed Faisal said.
Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor contributed from Washington, Patrick Quinn and Amir Shah from Kabul, and Mirwais Khan from Kandahar, Afghanistan.