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U.S. soldier killed, 2 Italians injured when Afghan soldier opens fire at military base

An Afghan soldier opened fire on foreign troops Tuesday at a military base in western Afghanistan, killing an American soldier and wounding two Italians, a senior Afghan commander said.

The incident -- unusual but not unprecedented -- could heighten an already considerable sense of mistrust between Western troops and Afghan security forces. That in turn could undermine the Obama administration’s plan for Afghan forces to eventually shoulder the responsibility for safeguarding the nation and take the place of the more than 110,000 Western troops now serving in Afghanistan. An additional 30,000 American troops are to arrive in the coming year.

Both Afghan and Western officials acknowledge serious gaps in the training and equipping of Afghan soldiers and police, and the poorly paid Afghan forces have also shown themselves to be vulnerable to Taliban infiltration. Details of Tuesday’s noontime shooting were still emerging hours later.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said in a brief statement that a U.S. soldier “died following a shooting incident today in western Afghanistan,” but declined to provide any other information about the circumstances. It said the incident was under investigation.

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Afghan army regional commander Gen. Jalandar Shah Bahnam provided a considerably fuller account. He said the shooting occurred at a jointly run base in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province. The province, bordering Turkmenistan, has been the scene of several days of clashes.

Western and Afghan troops have been hunting for three Afghan police officers missing after their post was attacked over the weekend. Dozens of insurgents had also massed and attacked other Afghan security posts, causing the coalition to rush in Western reinforcements.

Bahnam said the shooting followed an altercation between the foreign forces and their Afghan counterparts that broke out when Western troops refused to allow an Afghan soldier to approach an area where a helicopter was about to land. After the Afghan soldier opened fire, both Western and Afghan troops fired back, wounding him.

Adding to the confusion, a Taliban spokesman claimed that insurgents had shot down a helicopter in Badghis on Tuesday.

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It was not immediately known whether that claim was related to the shooting incident.

The episode comes amid a new outbreak of tensions between Western commanders and the government of President Hamid Karzai over the issue of civilian casualties.

Karzai on Tuesday dispatched a team to investigate reports by provincial officials and tribal elders that 10 Afghan civilians were killed in a strike by coalition forces in Kunar province, in the remote northeast. Western military officials said those killed during fighting Sunday were all insurgents, and put the number of dead at nine.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency disclosed that four Taliban fighters, including a local commander, had been arrested this month in connection with the assassination nearly four months ago of a senior Afghan intelligence official.

The official, Abdullah Laghmani, was the deputy chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security. He died in a suicide bombing Sept. 2 in his home province of Laghman, in Afghanistan’s east. Twenty-two other people were killed along with him.

The intelligence service said in a statement that the suspects, who were captured Dec. 20, confessed to masterminding the bombing, which took place outside a crowded mosque.

The Taliban often targets Afghan officials, but it was highly unusual for the group to succeed in assassinating a senior member of the security establishment.

laura.king@latimes.com

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