04/11/2009

Killer Afghan Policeman 'Taliban', Says PM

The number of UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations in 2001 has hit 229.

The tragic figure was reached after multiple casualties were suffered in a single incident yesterday.

It saw five British soldiers shot dead in an attack apparently carried out by an Afghan policeman.

Three of the fatalities were from the Grenadier Guards and the other two from the Royal Military Police.

Just days ahead of the UK's traditional Remembrance Sunday commemorations that recall the service and suffering of the forces across dozens of conflicts, the servicemen were shot and killed at a police chekpoint near Sangin (Helmand Province) on Tuesday morning.

According to some sources, the attacker was a policeman called Gulbuddin, who was initially thought to have been involved in a dispute with his commander.

However, Prime Minister Gordon Brown pointed out this afternoon that the Taliban could have been responsible for the shootings - having used an Afghan police member or having infiltrated the police force with one of its members.

A UK military spokesman said: "His motives and whereabouts are unknown at this time. Every effort is now being put into hunting down those responsible for this attack."

The British Military Police have launched an investigation as well as one by the local chief of the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Director of Security.
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In Afghanistan, recruiting and training the police and ensuring their loyalty to the government is especially difficult.

Also, as the Afghan police are relatively badly paid - with a Taliban fighter earning rather more - they are said to try earning extra cash by taking bribes from ordinary Afghans at official or often unofficial checkpoints.

The dead soldiers had been mentoring and living alongside Afghan police officers in a compound for the past two weeks.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed his sympathies to the soldiers' families and paid tribute to "their courage, skill and determination".

"They fought to make Afghanistan more secure, but above all to make Britain safer from the terrorism and extremism which threaten us from the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan."

The PM said his priority is to ensure heroic troops have the best possible support and equipment - the right strategy, backed by international partners, and by a new Afghan government ready to play its part in confronting the challenges Afghanistan faces.

This is the worst single incident in Helmand since 10 July, when five soldiers from 2 Rifles were killed by improvised explosive devices near the town of Sangin.

During the last ten days, 15 British soldiers have died in southern Afghanistan.

A few days ago, Staff Sergeant Olaf Sean George Schmid, also died following an Improvised Explosive Device explosion in the Sangin region.

Earlier, another British soldier from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment died near Nad-e-Ali in Helmand.

(CL/BMcC)

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