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Afghanistan: 2 NATO soldiers killed in apparent insider attack

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Reuters

(Read caption) An Afghan National Police armored vehicle patrols the streets of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, on Wednesday. The Taliban seized a district headquarters in the province on Monday and two NATO soldiers were shot dead by uniformed men on an army base in the area.

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Men in Afghan military uniforms shot and killed two NATO soldiers in the southern province of Helmand Wednesday, highlighting the roiling mistrust between Afghan and foreign troops since NATO formally ended its combat mission last December.

The two attackers opened fire on a vehicle carrying international troops before being killed by return fire, reports the Associated Press.

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The attack took place at the former Camp Bastion, a NATO base handed over to Afghan forces last year, according to Reuters. NATO did not confirm the location of the attack nor reveal the nationality of the soldiers killed, according to a statement released Wednesday.

The motive for the killings are unclear as no group has claimed responsibility, the AP reports.

In past attacks, Taliban insurgents have been known to wear Afghan police or military uniforms to stage attacks on the international troops. Others have opened fire apparently on the own accord, like an Afghan soldier who last year killed Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the highest-ranked U.S. officer to be slain in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War.

The shooting is the third "insider attack" on foreign forces this year. In January, three American civilian contractors were shot dead at Kabul airport by an Afghan soldier who was also killed. In April, an American soldier was killed by an Afghan soldier inside the compound of the governor of eastern Nangarhar province's city of Jalalabad. 

The attack comes just days after a major US-led airstrike in Helmand. The airstrike was intended to repel Taliban advancing on the strategic opium-growing town of Musa Qala. An estimated 37 militants were killed, according to Reuters, and the area remains restive. 

Sabiq Jihadmal, a Twitter user with links to the insurgents, said they had seized several army posts on Sunday night. Over the weekend, a large army camp a few miles from town was overrun, and 25 soldiers were captured.

"They are missing now. The Taliban have their weapons and vehicles now and are fighting us with those heavy weapons," Sharif said.

Helmand police said it sent reinforcements to the district on Monday and would defend it. A source in provincial capital Lashkar Gah, however, said the Taliban was also sending more fighters.

The district governor, Mohammed Sharif, asked Monday for additional military support to stop the Taliban advance in the area.

"The Taliban are getting prepared to attack us from three directions tonight,” he said. “If we don't get support soon the district will collapse in Taliban hands.”

So-called “green on blue” attacks — where Afghan forces turn on coalition troops, sometimes with Taliban support — have been a perennial feature of the decade-plus NATO presence in Afghanistan. This is the third such attack this year. Western officials say such killings are frequently attributable to personal or cultural misunderstandings and not explicit militant plots, according to Deutche Welle.

Helmand Province, a lucrative opium-growing region and Taliban stronghold, is a particularly volatile spot for foreign troops, Reuters reports. More than 400 British soldiers have died there — more than in any other province in the country — as well as more than 350 US Marines.