An Afghan police officer shot and killed two Western military trainers Wednesday, the NATO force said. It was the second such incident in little more than a month and one likely to renew concerns about the reliability of the Afghan security forces.
The shootings in the northwestern province of Badghis left two Spanish paramilitary troops dead, along with an interpreter and the assailant, with whom the Taliban claimed an affiliation.
The Spanish government said the interpreter was a Spanish citizen of Iranian origin, according to the Associated Press.
Compounding the sense of grievance and anger on both sides, word of the deadly shootings set off a riot by Afghan villagers and townspeople outside the small Western installation where the violence occurred.
A crowd of hundreds of men hurled stones and invective at the base, in the district center of Qala-i-Naw. At least two dozen people were injured, according to provincial spokesman Sharafuddin Majidi.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force usually paints incidents like Wednesday's shooting as isolated. However, attacks on Western mentors by their Afghan charges do occur with some regularity, spawning mistrust and anxiety on both sides.
U.S. hopes for a troop pullback beginning as early as next summer hinge on the ability of Afghan security forces to assume responsibility for safeguarding the country. But senior officers in the NATO force have acknowledged that problems such as drug use, illiteracy and desertion among Afghan recruits will make turning them into a disciplined fighting force a difficult task.
The American commander in charge of the training effort, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, told reporters at the Pentagon this week via videoconference from Kabul that it would take until October 2011 to bring the Afghan security forces up to capacity. In the meantime, he said, they "cannot operate independently."
Shootings like Wednesday's attack sometimes arise out of a heat-of-the-moment argument, as apparently happened July 20 when an Afghan soldier opened fire and killed two American civilian trainers at a base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
In the latest case, however, the Taliban claimed that the assailant, whom it identified as Ghulam Ali, was loyal to them. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said by telephone that the Afghan police officer had "special contacts" with the insurgents.
Local officials said the Taliban movement had had some success in infiltrating the security forces in Badghis province, which has been increasingly restive in recent months.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the shooting was under investigation.