Betrayed while asleep, Afghan police are dying

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- A wave of betrayal has left at least 17 Afghan policemen dead in the past 10 days -- all slain in their sleep, at the hands of those close to them.

In the very early hours of Thursday morning, an Afghan policeman unlocked the door of the Oruzgan province post where he was stationed and let in his Taliban friends, who with knives and guns helped him kill four and wound eight of his sleeping colleagues.

On Sunday, a local police commander in the remote northern province of Jawzjan shot to death, in their beds, five men under his command, and fled to join the Taliban.

And on Dec. 18, a teenager apparently being kept for sexual purposes by an Afghan Border Police commander in southern Kandahar province drugged the commander and the post's other 10 policemen to put them to sleep and then shot them all; eight died, and three survived with wounds.

In the crisis that has risen in the past year over "insider" killings, when Afghan security forces turn on their foreign allies, the toll has been even heavier for the Afghans themselves -- at least 86 in a count by The New York Times this year. The full toll is likely to be higher than it has been for U.S. and other NATO forces, who have lost at least 62 so far, the latest Monday in Kabul.

Unlike most insider attacks against foreign forces, known as "green-on-blue" killings, most of the attacks between Afghans, "green on green," have been clear cases of either infiltration by Taliban insurgents or turncoat attacks. As with the three recent attacks, they have fallen most heavily on police units, and they have followed a familiar pattern: The Taliban either infiltrate someone into a unit or win over someone already in a unit, who then kills his comrades in their sleep. Frequently, the victims are first poisoned or drugged at dinner.

"I tell my cook not to allow any police officer in the kitchen," said Taaj Mohammad, a border police check post commander near the one in Kandahar attacked Dec. 18. "This kind of incident really creates mistrust among comrades, which is not good. Now, we don't trust anyone, even those who spent years in the post."

In some green-on-green cases, personal grievances may drive the attackers to throw in their lot with the Taliban. That is apparently what happened in the case of Noor Agha, a young man who police say killed eight border security police in their check post on the border near Spinbaldak, the major crossing point between Kandahar and Pakistan, on Dec. 18.

Police said Mr. Agha, whose age was unclear but whom police sources described as "still beardless," had been the involuntary companion of the border police commander at that check post, Agha Amire, for several years. Other police commanders who knew both said there was clearly an "improper relationship" between the two.

The night of the attack, Mr. Agha offered to make a special dinner for police at the check post and invited two friends to attend as well. He and his friends put drugs in the food and then shot everyone there, including Cmdr. Amire, escaping across the border to join Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, according to a police official.

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