Uniformed gunman kills 2 Afghan soldiers in Defense Ministry

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

An insurgent dressed as an Afghan soldier opened fire Monday inside the Defense Ministry, killing two soldiers in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Afghan and French defense ministers, officials said.

The attacker, who was also armed with explosives, struck the ministry before noon, ahead of a joint press conference the ministers had scheduled.

He was shot and killed by Afghan soldiers before he could detonate his explosives, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman. Seven Afghan soldiers were wounded in the attack, Azimi said.

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak was at the ministry at the time of the attack but was not injured, although his assistant was wounded, ministry officials said.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet had not yet arrived at the time of the attack, French officials said. He was about 25 miles north of Kabul, meeting with French troops in Bagram, according to Lt. Col. Eric de Lapresle, a spokesman for French forces in Afghanistan. Lapresle said he could not disclose where the minister was Monday afternoon or when he was scheduled to depart.

Security forces did not allow reporters inside the ministry Monday afternoon. No damage was visible from outside the front gate, where security forces had gathered in response to the attack.

No NATO troops were injured or involved in responding to the attack, coalition spokesmen said. Longuet arrived Sunday and had been in the eastern provinces meeting with French troops, some of the 3,850 deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the French official was targeted because his country is among those "actively part of the invasion. The leaders of all these countries are our targets."

The attack is the latest of several in recent days by Taliban fighters who succeeded in infiltrating or posing as Afghan security forces. On Saturday, five NATO service members and four Afghan soldiers were killed in a suicide attack by a Taliban bomber dressed as an Afghan soldier who infiltrated a joint Afghan and U.S. base on the edge of eastern Laghman province.

Mujahid said Taliban fighters have succeeded in penetrating the ranks of Afghan security forces.

"The latest attacks are testament to the fact," he said, promising similar attacks in the near future.

U.S. military officials have said they are responding by training a slew of counterintelligence agents to track down sleeper agents within the Afghan security forces. Mujahid said such counter-intelligence agents will fail to detect Taliban fighters, some of whom have had years to blend in.

"Our infiltrators are waiting for the opportunity," he said, "and when the time comes, they are acting."

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com Special correspondents Hashmat Baktash and Aimal Yaqubi in Kabul contributed to this report.

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