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Afghan policeman drugs colleagues, kills 9

KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An Afghan policeman drugged nine colleagues and shot them dead as they slept in eastern province Paktika, police said on Friday, the latest in a string of rogue shootings that has also targeted foreign forces.

A series of attacks on NATO personnel by Afghan soldiers and policemen have stoked fears that they have turned against their western allies, or have been infiltrated by the Taliban insurgents.

In the latest attack in Paktika’s Yahya Khil district, the assailant is believed to have laced the victims’ dinner on Thursday night with crushed sleeping pills, said provincial police chief Dawlat Khan Zadran.

After killing the men, who were all members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), he picked up their weapons and drove off in a vehicle. Two of his brothers have since been arrested, Zadran said.

The Taliban said that soon after the shootings the attacker came over to the group, bringing the vehicle and the weapons taken from the dead policemen.

“He has joined our mujahideen,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a text message to reporters that arrived as news of the shooting emerged.

Tension between Afghanistan and its foreign backers has risen after a series of incidents, including the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base, and a massacre of 17 villagers for which a U.S. soldier has been charged.

Paktika is a stronghold of the Haqqani militant group, which has targeted U.S. troops and the Afghan forces working with them.

The policemen in the latest attack were members of the ALP, a branch of the police which has been set up in villages where the national force is weak.

The ALP was a flagship project of U.S. General David Petraeus, who stepped down as commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan in 2011, but it has been criticised by rights groups, including in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report last September.

HRW said that in some areas, criminals and insurgents were joining the ALP or government-backed militias, securing access to money and guns, while a U.S. report in December said the ALP suffered in some instances from corruption and other problems.

At least 16 NATO soldiers have been killed in a wave of so-called rogue attacks since January, raising questions about the ability of the Afghan forces to take over full security responsibility by 2014, when the bulk of foreign combat troops leave.

Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Daniel Magnowski