KABUL, Afghanistan — Four days after three British troops were slain at their base in the middle of the night, it remains unclear what motivated a rogue Afghan soldier to commit the crime – one made all the more puzzling because it was carried out by a member of an ethnic group that has largely backed the international forces and opposed the Taliban.
With the help of the Taliban, a man claiming to be the fugitive Afghan soldier has conducted telephone interviews with several Western news organizations. He told The Associated Press that he turned on coalition soldiers because they killed "innocent people" and used search dogs too close to Afghan women, an indignity.
A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly, said at least some of the information provided by the man was inconsistent with what is known about the attack.
During the brief call with the AP, the man talked of using a machine gun but didn't mention using a rocket-propelled grenade. Authorities said the attacker used more than one weapon, including a rocket-propelled grenade aimed at soldiers inside a base control room.
A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defense said, "Whilst we cannot comment on the legitimacy of this individual's claims to be the suspect responsible for this cowardly attack, it is ridiculous to suggest that we are engaged in suicide attacks or deliberately killing civilians.
"Insurgents and those who are against the coalition mission in Afghanistan routinely make false and exaggerated claims and so care must be taken not to accept their accounts at face value."
The killings were a blow to Britain, where public support is ebbing for the war. It was the second time in eight months that a member of the Afghan security forces attacked British troops. In November, an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers in the south.
Britain identified the men killed at the base as Major James Joshua Bowman, 34, the company commander; Lt. Neal Turkington, 26; and Cpl. Arjun Purja Pun, 33 – all with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles. Their deaths raised to 318 the number of British service members killed in the war.
According to the British Defense Ministry, Bowman was shot dead at 2 a.m. as he slept in his quarters.
"Since his arrival in Afghanistan, he led his company deep into enemy-controlled territory again and again," said Lt. Col. Gerald Strickland, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion. "It is a bitter irony that after driving the insurgents back throughout his area, he was gunned down as he slept in the supposed security of his patrol base."
Regardless of whether he's the real shooter, the Taliban have been eager to capitalize on the assault Tuesday in Nahr-i-Saraj district of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.
"This is only the beginning and soon everyone in Afghanistan, every single member of the Afghan nation, will join us against NATO," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said.
The rogue soldier has been identified as Talib Hussein, a hashish user who received his military training in Kabul. Hussein is an ethnic Hazara and Shiite Muslim from the eastern province of Ghazni, said Afghan Gen. Ghulam Farook Parwani.
The Taliban are mostly ethnic Pashtun Sunni Muslims who view Shiites as doctrinally impure.
"We don't know why he did it, but Hazaras should remember the massacres by the Taliban in Bamiyan," Abbas Noyan, a Hazara member of the Afghan parliament, said in reference to how thousands of Hazaras were killed and persecuted by the Taliban during their 1997-2001 rule. "Hazaras should remember the Taliban killing of Hazaras after the capture of Mazar-e-Sharif," a city in the north.
Seeking to interview the fugitive soldier, an AP reporter on Thursday called Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesman in southern Afghanistan. Ahmadi provided a phone number to reach the alleged attacker, who the Taliban say left the base and sought their protection.
Ahmadi said the man told him that he spent two years in Iran and that he made final plans for his attack after he saw NATO forces kill a 5-year-old.
The phone was answered by a man who spoke Pashto, an Afghan language spoken in the south. When the reporter told the man he was looking for the Afghan soldier who shot the British service members, the man told him to wait. A short time later, a man who claimed he was Hussein joined the conversation on a speaker phone.
The man, speaking in Dari, another Afghan language, said he acted alone and did not conduct the attack on behalf of the Taliban. After the attack, the man said he ran from the base toward a known Taliban area.
"They took me, confirmed that I did it and then they welcomed me," the man said, adding that he was indeed a Hazara.
Asked why he attacked the British, the man said, "They were misbehaving with our sisters and mothers. They were killing innocent people – our brothers."
He also said that he felt he needed to do something that would ensure him a good life after death.
The man, who claimed to be 20, said he joined the Afghan National Army about a year ago, primarily because his parents wanted him out of the house.
"I joined the ANA to serve my country, but then I saw them misbehaving," he said in an apparent reference to troops not showing customary signs of respect when dealing with women.
He said he plotted the attack after someone in a dream asked him: "Why aren't you doing jihad?"
"I moved toward the compound with a machine gun," he told the reporter. "I was standing in front of them (the soldiers) and they were smiling at me. I don't know what they were saying to each other. I already had made up my mind that I would do something to ensure life after death.
"I started firing at them. I hit six of them standing there. Then I moved in and I started shooting everyone."
Khan reported from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Associated Press Writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.