Eight troops and a contractor were killed by a shooter wearing an Afghan Air Force uniform and were confirmed to be American, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said on Wednesday, making it the worst single-day U.S. death toll in nearly three years.
The U.S.-led coalition issued a statement condemning the attacks. "Today, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan suffered a tragic loss from an attack, which occurred this morning, resulting in the deaths of nine coalition trainers,” said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of NATO's training mission in Afghanistan, in a statement. “I wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to the families of the trainers killed today.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who also decried the violence, ordered an investigation into the incident, the coalition said. "ISAF is already working closely with our Afghan partners to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident," said Rear Adm. Hal Pittman, senior ISAF spokesman.
It's the highest death toll in one day since the battle of Wanat in eastern Afghanistan in July 2008, an attack that killed nine Americans and wounded 27.
April has historically been a relatively quiet time of the year in Afghanistan, but with this attack, this April has become the bloodiest since the war began, with at least 40 Americans dead so far. Not only is it now one of the worst single months for the United States since the war began, but the Associated Press reports that its the latest of seven incidents this year where Afghan security forces—or militants disguised in their uniforms—killed coalition soldiers or other Afghan forces.
The shooter opened fire at the Afghan Air Force compound at the Kabul International Airport during a meeting between American and Afghan officers.
"Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started," Afghan Air Corps spokesman Col. Bahader told the AP. "After the shooting started, we saw a number of Afghan army officers and soldiers running out of the building. Some were even throwing themselves out of the windows to get away." Bahader added that five Afghan soldiers were wounded and at least one was shot, but not fatally.
Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, identified the shooter as an Afghan Air Force colonel who had served as a military pilot for 20 years. Aides identified the shooter as an older officer named Hamid Gul, who was trained during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan 30 years ago, according to The New York Times. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but described the man as a militant. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Times that the shooter donned the Afghan military uniform to carry out the attack.
It’s also one of the deadliest incidents of an Afghan soldier firing on coalition forces, following a spate of similar attacks. In the last violent incident on April 16, a recently recruited soldier blew himself up in a meeting of NATO trainers and Afghan troops at an Afghan army headquarters in eastern Afghanistan. The bomber, whom the Taliban said joined the army to carry out the attack, detonated a vest packed with explosives that was hidden underneath his uniform and killed six American troops, four Afghan soldiers, and an interpreter.
Olga Belogolova contributed