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US forces in Afghanistan ordered to keep weapons loaded at all times

NBC's Atia Abawai explains what's behind the worsening attacks on U.S. military personnel by Afghan security and military to NBC's Andrea Mitchell.

Updated at 2 p.m. ET: WASHINGTON – All U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan are to be required to have a fully loaded magazine in their weapons at all times in response to a spike in attacks by rogue members of the Afghan government’s forces.

A senior military official told NBC News that the order "could save precious seconds" in responding to a so-called "green-on-blue" attack and hopefully save lives.


The U.S. military-wide order was issued after six Marines were killed by members of the Afghan forces in two separate attacks last week. Two U.S. service members and an Afghan police officer were also killed Friday by a newly recruited Afghan village police officer, according to officials.

U.S. military officials told NBC News that the new order did not mean personnel were required to keep a round in the chamber.

'Guardian angel' to keep watch
The Army has also ordered that at any gathering of U.S. military and armed Afghan security at least one soldier will be designated as a "guardian angel" to stand in a protected space with his weapon loaded to respond immediately to any threat against his fellow soldiers.

A senior military official told NBC News that while these two measures could provide a rapid response to any attack, the reality was that as long as U.S. forces are working side-by-side with armed Afghans, any one of them "could always get the drop on you."

A man in an Afghan police uniform shot and killed two US special forces members in the western Farah Province of Afghanistan. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

The attack Friday came just minutes after the village police officer -- identified as Mohammad Ismail, a man in his 30s who had joined the Afghan Local Police just five days ago -- had been given a new weapon as a present by American forces.

He opened fire during an inauguration ceremony attended by American and Afghan national forces in the Kinisk village in the far western province of Farah, provincial police chief Agha Noor Kemtoz told The Associated Press.

"As soon as they gave the weapon to Ismail to begin training, suddenly he took the gun and opened fire toward the U.S. soldiers," Kemtoz said.

"Two U.S. Forces-Afghanistan service members died this morning as a result of an insider threat attack in Farah province, Afghanistan," Col. Hagen Messer, spokesman for the International Joint Command in the country, told NBC News. "Officials are investigating the incident to determine the facts and as more information becomes available it will be released as appropriate."

Details remained sketchy, but an official in the Bala Bolok District told NBC News that an Afghan policeman was also killed in the attack.

Analysis: What's leading Afghan troops to turn against coalition?

Ismail was shot and killed as the coalition and Afghan forces returned fire, the police chief said.

Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the international coalition force, also confirmed that the shooter had been killed.

The Afghan Local Police, which is different from the Afghan National Police, is a village defense force being trained by international forces, including U.S. special forces.

It was not immediately clear to which branch of the U.S. military the dead Americans belonged.

Hoshang Hashimi / AP

More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

The killings in the country's far west marked the sixth time in two weeks that a member of the Afghan security forces, or someone wearing their uniform, opened fire on international forces.

28 attacks this year
Such attacks — virtually unheard of just a few years ago — have recently escalated, killing at least 36 foreign troops so far this year and raising questions about the strategy to train national police and soldiers to take over security and fight insurgents after most foreign troops leave the country by the end of 2014.

The NATO-led coalition has said such attacks are anomalies stemming from personal disputes, but the supreme leader of the Taliban boasted on Thursday night that the insurgents are infiltrating the quickly expanding Afghan forces.  

So far in 2012, there have been 28 attacks reported on foreign troops by Afghans they are training, compared to 11 attacks in 2011, according to an Associated Press count, and five attacks in each of the previous two years.

Six such attacks have come in the past two weeks alone, with six American troops killed last Friday in two separate shootings in Helmand province in the south and another American killed a few days previously on a U.S. base in Paktia province in the east.

The trend raises questions about potential resentment by Afghans after more than a decade of international presence and it also renews concern that insurgents may be infiltrating the Afghan army and police, despite intensified screening.

Insurgent infiltration or recruitment was behind only about 10 percent of this year's reported attacks on coalition forces by Afghan allies, Graybeal said earlier this week, citing investigations into attacks before those of the past week.

Graybeal insisted the deadly violence is relatively small scale compared to the nearly 340,000 Afghan security forces now being trained.

Dozens have been killed following a rash of deadly suicide  bombings in Afghanistan.  NBC's Atia Abawi reports. 

The international coalition has said that Afghan forces are increasingly able to lead operations and already have started to assume responsibility for security in areas of the country that are home to 75 percent of the Afghan population.

However, the Taliban have been quick to seize on the increasing number of attacks as a sign of Afghan rejection of foreign forces and the insurgents' own successful recruitment.

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Message from Omar
The group's supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar said Thursday night that the insurgents "have cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy" and were successfully killing a rising number of U.S.-led coalition forces.

All seven Americans aboard the helicopter were killed, including two Navy SEALs. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

In an email to media organizations, Omar said the plan to transfer responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 is a "deceiving drama" that the international community has orchestrated to hide its defeat.

Seven American troops killed in Afghan chopper crash

The Taliban leader's message came the same day that a U.S. military helicopter crashed during a firefight with insurgents in a remote area of southern Afghanistan, killing seven Americans and four Afghans in one of the deadliest air disasters of a war now in its second decade.

The Taliban claimed they gunned down the Black Hawk.

NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube, Atia Abawi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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