An Afghan soldier has killed three Americans in an apparent insider attack in the highly contested Nangarhar province, according to officials.
The attack happened less than a day after a US airstrike in Helmand killed at least two members of the Afghan border police in a joint US-Afghan operation, according to the Helmand governor.
The incidents occurred at a time of intensified violence in Afghanistan, and when the Trump administration is considering sending more US troops to .
In Nangarhar, the governor’s spokesman, Attahullah Khogyani, told the Associated Press that two US soldiers had been killed and two others wounded in the attack. He said the attacker was killed.
Later, Reuters reported that three American soldiers had been killed and one wounded, citing three US officials speaking anonymously. The Pentagon subsequently confirmed the three US deaths and said the incident was under investigation; it said one US soldier had been evacuated for medical attention.
The attack took place in Achin, a district partly controlled by militants loyal to Islamic State. This is where, in April, the US army ever used on a complex of cave used by Isis fighters. Since the Moab strike, US and Afghan forces have been engaged in ground fighting, assisted by regular airstrikes, to clear the area.
The attack brings the total number of coalition troops killed in Afghanistan this year to six, all of them Americans. With the exception of one, all were killed in Nangarhar.
Insider attacks represent the gravest danger to foreign troops in Afghanistan outside of direct combat. Since 2007, more than 150 coalition forces have been killed by Afghans they were in the country to train and advise.
In March, in the latest so-called green-on-blue incident, an Afghan soldier shot and injured three Americans inside a base in Helmand.
The Afghan soldier was a member of the country’s special forces, and had gotten into a heated argument with his American mentors before shooting four of them, according to another senior Nangarhar official, not authorised to speak to the press.
The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement, it said the Afghan soldier was one of several Taliban infiltrators in the Afghan armed forces, and that the attack was part of the group’s annual spring offensive.
“American invaders have embedded with their hirelings in most parts of the country, for which the Mujahideen have launched counter measures as many infiltrators are awaiting their chance to carry out such an attack behind enemy lines,” a , according to the Site intelligence group.
In the US, the Trump administration is mulling a decision to send more soldiers to Afghanistan to shore up the 8,400 US troops already there.
American officials have reached out to Nato allies for troop contributions. There are currently about 5,000 Nato soldiers in Afghanistan. Last month, Australia committed to sending an additional 30 soldiers.
On Friday, US and Afghan forces conducted an operation in Nad Ali, an embattled district bordering the provincial capital of Helmand, in which at least two Afghan policemen were killed. “Last night around 10pm, [the US] carried out an airstrike on the district centre of Nad Ali, targeting an Afghan border police checkpoint. Two were killed, and three others wounded,” said Omar Zawak, the Helmand governor’s spokesman.
In a statement, the said: “During an ANDSF [Afghan government forces] and US partnered operation, fires resulted in the deaths and injuries to members of the Afghan Border Police. An investigation is being conducted at this time to determine the specific circumstances that led to this incident.”
The US has dramatically expanded its use of airstrikes in recent months. This year, the US in Afghanistan, nearly the same number as the entirety of 2016.
US troops in Afghanistan are primarily “training, advising and assisting” Afghan forces, but a sizeable contingent is also engaged in a counter-terrorism mission, which includes deploying airstrikes.
According to its security agreement with the Afghan government, the US is also allowed to conduct airstrikes in defence of its own troops on the ground.