Afghan army reviewing recruitment after attack

KABUL Wed Apr 20, 2011 8:42am EDT

Army soldiers guard the outside of Afghanistan's Defence Ministry in Kabul, April 18, 2011. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Army soldiers guard the outside of Afghanistan's Defence Ministry in Kabul, April 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan army is reviewing recruitment after several high profile attacks by assailants in Afghan security force uniforms, including one inside the Defense Ministry this week, a ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Azimy said the man who penetrated the army's nerve center was actually an insurgent disguised in an army uniform, but suggested collaborators within the army could have helped him get access to the building.

The attack came months before the start of a transfer of security responsibilities from foreign to Afghan forces, and after NATO-led troops claimed solid progress in efforts to bolster the numbers and quality of the Afghan police and army.

Under the transition program, Afghan forces will begin by taking over from foreign troops in a few areas, but should have control of the whole country by the end of 2014.

"A new scrutiny into the mechanism of enrollment in the Afghan army has recently started, in order to prevent enemies taking advantage," Azimy told reporters at a news conference.

The attacker at the ministry opened fire but was killed before he had time to detonate a suicide-bomb vest he was wearing, Azimy said. He killed an officer and two soldiers.

Investigators were looking into the possibility that someone within the army helped him with a building pass or he had access to a car with permission to drive into the compound, Azimy said.

Suspicion has also fallen on workers at a construction site inside the ministry compound.

POLICE CHIEF KILLED

Two days earlier, a suicide bomber, also in army uniform, blew himself up inside an army base in eastern Afghanistan, killing five NATO and four Afghan soldiers.

Last Friday, provincial police chief of southern Kandahar, Khan Mohammad Mujahid, was killed at his office, along with two police officers by a suicide bomber in a police uniform.

The Taliban claimed all three attackers were their sympathizers within the security force ranks.

Although the insurgents often exaggerate or distort claims about attacks, concerns had already been raised by a string of killings of foreign soldiers by "rogue" soldiers and police, recruitment would be reviewed.

A rogue Afghan border policeman shot dead two foreign soldiers this month, while in February, two German soldiers were killed by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform. Last November, a border policeman shot and killed six U.S. troops while they were on a training mission.

Earlier that month, an Afghan soldier shot three foreign troops, and in August two Spanish police and an interpreter were killed by an Afghan policeman they were training.

The attacks highlight the pressure the U.S. and NATO troops face as they rapidly train Afghan security forces to pave the way for critical security handover which begins later this year, in the face of a spiraling insurgency.

Western forces in Afghanistan have begun to train counter-intelligence agents to help root out Taliban infiltrators in the Afghan army and police, General William Caldwell, head of the U.S. and NATO training mission in Afghanistan, said recently.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Robert Birsel)

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