KABUL (Reuters) - Eight troops from the NATO-led force in Afghanistan were killed in a shooting involving an Afghan Air Force pilot at Kabul’s airport on Wednesday, NATO said, in one of the deadliest incidents of “rogue” Afghans turning their weapons on foreign soldiers.
A contractor, whose identity was not known, was also killed in the shooting, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
The shooting follows a string of attacks by Afghan forces against their NATO-led mentors carried out either by “rogue” soldiers or by insurgents in uniform who have managed to infiltrate their ranks.
Such incidents highlight the challenge for U.S. and NATO forces as they try to prepare for a gradual handover of security responsibilities that is scheduled to begin in July and end with the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) released a brief statement saying eight troops and the contractor had been killed in the airport shooting. It gave no further details about the incident or about the nationality of those killed. The death toll had earlier been put at six.
An ISAF spokesman said: “We can confirm an incident took place in the Afghan Air Force compound within the airport involving small-arms fire. We do not know what started the incident.”
The Afghan Defence Ministry issued a statement shortly after the incident saying several people had been killed and wounded after a shooting involving one of its Air Force pilots.
It gave no further details except that the shooting had followed a dispute. Afghan media said a veteran Air Force pilot had opened fire on the ISAF troops.
The Taliban however released a statement saying one of its fighters, named Azizullah, was dressed in military uniform and carried out the attack after gaining access to the compound.
“(He) shot his weapon at many foreign and Afghan forces who were in a hangar, killing nine foreign troops and five Afghan soldiers,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
The Taliban often claim responsibility for attacks carried out by others and exaggerate casualty numbers, although their fighters have managed to gain access to foreign and Afghan bases to launch raids in the past.
On Monday, almost 500 prisoners escaped from a jail in Afghanistan’s south through a tunnel dug by the Taliban under the noses of Afghan and ISAF forces, a worrying incident before the start of the traditional fighting season.
On April 18, an insurgent dressed in Afghan army uniform opened fire inside the Afghan Defence Ministry in central Kabul, killing two employees and wounding seven.
Earlier this month, an Afghan border policeman shot dead two foreign soldiers on a training mission in the northern province of Faryab.
Rapid recruitment into the Afghan security forces, which will
be boosted to at least 305,000, has raised fears the Taliban have infiltrated sympathisers into the Afghan police and army.
Afghan authorities began tighter vetting of recruits after a renegade soldier killed five British troops in 2009, but there have still been at least 20 people killed in such incidents.
In February, at least two German soldiers were killed by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform in northern Baghlan province, and last November a border policeman shot and killed six U.S. troops while they were on a training mission.
Earlier that month, three troops from the NATO-led coalition were shot by an Afghan soldier in the south, and in August two Spanish police and an interpreter were killed by an Afghan policeman they were training in the northwest.
Additional reporting and writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Paul Tait and Andrew Marshall