Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard in Laghman province on August… (WASEEM NAKZAD/AFP/GETTY…)
KABUL — The teenage assailant who killed three Marines last week on a U.S. military base in southern Afghanistan had easy access to the weapons arsenal of the Afghan police. He was in near-constant contact with U.S. troops, often when they were without their guns and body armor.
But although Aynoddin, 15, lived among American and Afghan security forces, he was not a soldier or a police officer. He had never been vetted. According to U.S. and Afghan officials, his role on base was hardly formal: He was the unpaid, underage personal assistant of the district police chief.
Officials would later learn that the quiet, willowy boy was also working for the insurgency.
As U.S. troops depart from Afghanistan, American military strategy increasingly hinges on small teams of advisers who live and work with Afghan soldiers and police officers. But those teams — like the one that Aynoddin attacked last week — put themselves at the mercy of often-shoddy Afghan security standards, which permit individuals to live on shared bases without proper scrutiny.
There have been 28 so-called “insider attacks” this year, resulting in the deaths of 39 coalition troops — a full 13 percent of those killed in Afghanistan in 2012. Among the dead are 23 Americans. The attacks continued Friday, when an Afghan Local Police officer shot and killed two U.S. troops during a training exercise in the western province of Farah.
NATO officials have long claimed that the majority of such attacks are the products of personal disputes. But last week’s shooting was believed to have come from a different, more troubling source: a young Taliban convert who exploited his access to carry out what insurgent leader Mohammad Omar boasted Thursday is a deliberate plan to drive a wedge between foreign and Afghan forces.
Aynoddin should never have been on the base in the first place, because Afghan and U.S. security standards would not have allowed it. But those standards are often violated — especially by the country’s nascent police force.
“We have to have better leadership out of our Afghan leaders. There are some things they need to step up to the plate and do now better than they’ve done,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, the top U.S. commander in southwestern Afghanistan. “They need to be looking in the eyes of their subordinate commanders and holding them accountable for these people who are in and out of police stations.”
Aynoddin, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name, was in high school when he started work for Garmsir’s police chief, Sarwar Jan, in the southern province of Helmand. He spent his days cooking for Jan and cleaning up after him. Both Afghans and Americans knew him as the boss’s “tea boy.”
At 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 10,, three weeks after he arrived at a joint U.S.-Afghan base called Delhi, the boy stole a Kalashnikov rifle that was lying in an unlocked barracks, according to police officers on the base. He walked to a gym where four unarmed Marines were exercising and held down the trigger until no bullets were left. When he was finished, three Marines were dead and one was badly injured.
Then Aynoddin walked out of the gym, rifle still in hand, and bragged of his accomplishment: “I just did jihad,” he said to nearby police officers, according to several men who were on the scene. “Don’t you want to do jihad, too? If not, I will kill you.” The officers approached him slowly and then tore the gun from his hands.
“The look in his face was angry, like if he had more bullets he would have killed us as well,” said Janan, one of the Garmsir officers.
When U.S. officials discovered that an unvetted 15-year-old had been allowed access to the base — and the weapons strewn around it — they were furious.
“These were jihad-motivated executions,” said a Western official in Afghanistan with knowledge of the incident. To suggest otherwise would be “profoundly distasteful and insulting to the Marines who died.”
Jan, the police chief, said Aynoddin was “given” to him as a personal assistant by a local elder and Afghan Local Police commander. Jan assumed the boy was a police officer, he said, even though he wasn’t wearing a uniform.
Police officers in Garmsir say Aynoddin skulked around the base, keeping to himself. Afghan and NATO officials now speculate that the boy was waiting for the right opportunity to attack foreign troops. He chose a moment when the Marines were unarmed and the Afghan police officers were gathered to break their daily Ramadan fast. A classified investigation into the incident is ongoing, but some officials with knowledge of the attack spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity.