All international military personnel working in Afghan government offices were recalled after a gunman killed two American military advisers Saturday inside the heavily guarded Ministry of Interior. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan, an incident that ignited days of violent anti-American protests throughout the country.
The two American military advisers, a lieutenant colonel and a major, were found dead on the floor of a locked office in the Ministry of Interior that can only be accessed by people who know the numerical combination to the lock.
Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), says the military is conducting a criminal investigation to find the perpetrator.
“The greatest concern obviously is how the perpetrator could make it into this high security area of the Ministry of Interior, get so close to the personnel working there and actually do his killings.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed the shooting at a press conference in Kabul.
He says it is not clear who did this or where he come from, or whether he was an Afghan or a foreigner, but he is sorry for those who were killed and extended his condolences to their families.
A Taliban spokesman identified the shooter as one of the group's sympathizers. He said an accomplice inside the ministry helped the perpetrator inside the compound to kill the Americans. General Jacobson says he cannot at this time confirm or deny any involvement by the Taliban.
In reaction to the breach of security, the top commander of the U.S. and NATO forces ordered a temporary withdrawal of all international military personal from government facilities in Afghanistan.
General Jacobson says despite the recall, the close cooperation between U.S.-led coalition forces, and Afghan police and military will continue. NATO forces have advisers embedded in many Afghan ministries. The advisers are helping to develop the ministries in preparation for a planned transfer of control of security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
The shooting comes amidst a week of intense and violent anti-American demonstrations across Afghanistan in reaction to news that Qurans and other religious materials were burned as trash at a U.S. military base.
ISAF spokesman Jacobson says he expects further unrest in the days to come.
“The demonstrations peaked on Friday as they always do in the Muslim world after prayers, and we have seen decreasing numbers but we have seen continued demonstrations. Yesterday again turned violent in two places up in the north and the east of the country. And we are starting to see demonstrations today so we do expect further unrest. We do expect further demonstrations. We will have to see how this situation develops.”
Tight security remains in effect in Kabul. Foreigners working at the U.S. embassy and at international organizations have been banned from leaving their compounds.
President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have apologized for the Quran burning incident saying it was a mistake, but their regrets have not quelled the deadly protests.