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Gunman in Afghan army uniform kills three Western soldiers, NATO says

By Laura King, Los Angeles Times –

KABUL — A gunman in an Afghan army uniform killed three Western troops, the NATO force said Thursday. That brought the number of “insider” shooting deaths in August to 15, the most in a single month since the start of the war nearly 11 years ago.

Coalition officials said in a statement that the shooting took place Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, but offered no other details, including the nationalities of those killed. The incident is under investigation, the statement said.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. William H. Speaks said the victims were not Americans.

Afghan and Western officials have been working urgently to try to prevent more insider shootings, in which members of the Afghan security forces turn their guns on Western troops who are helping to train them. The attacks have cast a cloud over NATO’s Afghan exit strategy, which calls for the rapid training of tens of thousands of Afghan police and army recruits so they can take over fighting duties before most Western troops leave in 2014.

Preventive measures being taken include planting intelligence officers within Afghan battalions to watch for signs that someone might be preparing to attack Western counterparts. On the NATO side, troops nationwide have been ordered to keep a loaded magazine in their weapons at all times so they can quickly fire back in the event an Afghan turns on them.

The intensifying pace of insider attacks has eroded field morale and trust as Western troops and Afghan police and soldiers work and fight side by side. Military officials blame the Taliban for about a quarter of such shootings, but they say a more common cause is personal antagonism fueled by cultural differences, stress and battle fatigue.

Western military officials previously minimized the military effect of the shootings, but they have acknowledged lately that they are becoming a serious threat. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, traveled to Afghanistan earlier this month for urgent consultations with Afghan and U.S. officials about ways to stop insider shootings.

At least 12 of those slain this month in the attacks have been American. Afghan forces also have been suffering growing numbers of attacks from within their own ranks.

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