KABUL (Reuters) - An insurgent killed two people in the Afghan Defense Ministry on Monday in the third attack on security installations in four days, with the violence likely to raise questions about military transition plans due to start this year.
A man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire in the ministry in central Kabul, killing two employees and wounding seven, said Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Azimy.
The man was also wearing a suicide-bomb belt, but did not have time to detonate it, said Azimy, who had earlier described the man as a soldier rather than an insurgent in army uniform.
“The attacker was shot dead before he set off his explosives, and the situation is normal,” he said.
The attack comes 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 gradual 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.
But in recent days militants in security uniforms, or soldiers gone “rogue”, have penetrated some of the most important police and army installations in the country, in attacks likely to compound worries about the security handover.
Afghan forces are already riddled with problems, ranging from illiteracy to shortages of equipment and leaders, that will make meeting the 2014 deadline a challenge.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber in an Afghan army uniform got into a sprawling desert base in the east of the country and killed five foreign and four Afghan soldiers, the highest toll of NATO-led troops in a single attack for several months.
Last Friday, a suicide bomber in police uniform evaded tight security at the police headquarters in Kandahar city and killed Khan Mohammad Mujahid, the police chief in the southern province of Kandahar.
Both places are ringed by formidable defenses, but cash or commitment to the insurgent cause rendered the walls useless at keeping out militants.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Monday attack on the ministry, saying they were targeting planned meetings with visiting French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet.
The French embassy said the minister was not in the building at the time of the shooting, but declined further comment on his schedule.
The incident also came the same day that Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to see U.S. troops.
The wounded included an assistant to the Defense minister and secretary of the army chief of staff, said Afghanistan’s Tolo TV, quoting unidentified ministry sources.
The attack in Kandahar showed the Taliban are still able to mount sophisticated raids in the center of the city, which gave birth to the insurgency and which has been a focus of military efforts by the United States and its international allies.
Although initial reports suggested the Kabul assault did not claim any senior victims, it was a psychological blow to the heart of the army, and a reminder of insurgents’ reach even in the center of the capital and when they are under stepped up pressure from NATO-led forces and a growing Afghan army.
The Defense Ministry lies near the Presidential palace and several other ministries. The road leading to the building was closed off on Monday afternoon, with even ministry employees turned away, but Azimy said the situation was under control.
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Bagram; writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Robert Birsel