Afghan police killed in insider attack as country braces for intense fighting season
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 11, 2017
KABUL, Afghanistan — Eight police officers were killed in an insider attack in southern Afghanistan on Friday, the latest in a string of nationwide violence targeting Afghan security forces, officials said.
The killings came just hours after Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said he was “gravely concerned” by reports pointing to an intense fighting season this year.
The eight officers were shot dead in the Shinkai district of Zabul province after being drugged by two of their colleagues, provincial governor’s spokesman Gul Islam Seyal said.
He added that the attackers stole the dead officers’ weapons and a vehicle at the checkpoint that they were all manning.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that the two assailants had defected to the militant group.
“Spring has already started,” Seyal said, alluding to the Afghan fighting season, which traditionally begins in the spring and abates during the winter months. “There will be threats, and our forces are ready to try their best to secure the province.”
The Taliban have been fighting to regain control of Afghanistan since 2001, when a U.S.-led invasion ousted them from power. The group sees Afghan security forces as legitimate targets.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings that targeted a police station and an intelligence agency office in Kabul earlier this month that killed at least 22 people.
But they denied involvement in an attack Wednesday on Afghanistan’s largest military hospital that the Defense Department said left more than 30 people dead and dozens more injured. Some have put the death toll closer to 50.
The Islamic State group said its militants stormed the hospital, raising fears that the group is growing more capable of conducting high-profile attacks similar to the Taliban in the most secure areas of the country.
The storming of the hospital in Kabul followed warnings by local officials that the capital could see an uptick in violence this year from emboldened Taliban insurgents and militant groups like the Islamic State.
Despite losing ground, some say the Islamic State group appears to be as strong as ever and is underestimated by Afghan and international forces.
“Everything should be done to improve security. We must also remain vigilant about the presence of foreign fighters, including Daesh,” Yamamoto told the U.N. Security Council on Friday, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.