Last Updated: Sun Feb 26, 2012 09:50 am (KSA) 06:50 am (GMT)

NATO withdraws from Afghan ministries after killing of military advisors

Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement urging both demonstrators and security forces to exercise restraint after five days of protests. (Reuters)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement urging both demonstrators and security forces to exercise restraint after five days of protests. (Reuters)

NATO and Britain have pulled staff out of Afghan government institutions after the killing of two U.S. military advisers took the death toll from raging anti-U.S. protests to around 30.

“For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF (NATO’s International Security Assistance Force) personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul,” said General John Allen, adding that the attacker’s actions “will not go unanswered.”

The two American officers, advisers to the interior ministry, were fired on at close range, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they did not know the identity of the shooter and that there was no known witness to the crime.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shootings, which it said were in retaliation for the desecration of copies of the Quran by foreign troops at NATO’s Bagram air base. Afghan security sources said the two dead were a U.S. colonel and major with NATO forces.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a letter to his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, apologizing for what Washington says was the unintentional burning of the Qurans, after Afghan laborers found charred copies while collecting rubbish.

In a day of violence across the country, a U.N. compound came under attack by thousands of demonstrators in northeastern Kunduz province, but they were driven back when police fired into the crowd, an AFP correspondent said.

Five people were reported killed in the attack, adding to the death toll from five days of often violent protests over the burning of Qurans at the U.S.-run Bagram airbase.

President Hamid Karzai issued a statement urging demonstrators and Afghan security forces to exercise restraint, saying the government was pressing Washington “on the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime”.

The two American military advisors from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were in the interior ministry when “an individual” turned his weapon against them, NATO said, without giving further details.

A government source told AFP the two men were killed by a member of the Afghan police.

“For obvious force protection reasons, I have... taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul,” said General John Allen, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

The Pentagon said the killings were “unacceptable” and called on Afghan authorities to better protect coalition forces and curtail raging violence.

The United States, which leads a 130,000-strong military force fighting the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, has advisors throughout the Kabul government.

Britain said its embassy was also temporarily withdrawing all civilian mentors and advisors from Afghan government institutions in Kabul.

The latest deaths followed the killing of two American troops on Thursday when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them at their base in eastern Nangarhar province as demonstrators approached.

The Quran burning has inflamed anti-Western sentiment already smoldering in Afghanistan over abuses by U.S.-led foreign troops, such as the release last month of a video showing U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban.

Four French soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan army colleague at their base in Kapisa province in late January shortly after the video was released.

Violent anti-U.S. protests have seen furious Afghans attack French, Norwegian, U.N. and U.S. bases, shouting “Death to America” after the Taliban exhorted their countrymen to kill foreign troops to avenge the Quran burning.

There were fresh protests in five different Afghan provinces Saturday over the burning of the Islamic holy book at the U.S. airbase at Bagram near Kabul.

In the assault on the U.N. compound in Kunduz, five people were killed and 66 wounded, including 11 police, health ministry officials and police said.

The U.N. Afghanistan mission issued a statement urging protestors to “reject calls to violence... in order not to allow the enemies of peace to take advantage of the situation”.

In Mihtarlam, in the central province of Laghman, hospital officials told AFP 15 protesters had been brought in with gunshot wounds.

Rallies elsewhere in Afghanistan were largely peaceful, however, authorities said, with protesters chanting “Death to America” and “Long live Islam”.


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