KABUL, Afghanistan — A gunman killed two American military advisers with shots to the back of the head Saturday inside a heavily guarded ministry building, and NATO ordered military workers out of Afghan ministries as protests raged for a fifth day over the burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. Army base.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Interior Ministry attack, saying it was retaliation for the Koran burnings, after the U.S. servicemen — a lieutenant colonel and a major — were found dead on the floor of an office that only people who know a numerical combination can get into, Afghan and Western officials said.
U.S. Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recalled all international military personnel from the ministries, an unprecedented action in the decade-long war.
Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak called U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to apologize for the shooting and offer his condolences, Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement released in Washington. "This act is unacceptable and the United States condemns it in the strongest possible terms," Little said.
Security is tight in the capital and foreigners working at the U.S. Embassy and at international organizations have been banned from leaving their compounds.
AP, citing American and Afghan officials it did not identify, said the two American officers were found by another foreigner who went into the room. Authorities were studying security camera video for clues. U.S. officials did not identify the assailant.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid identified the shooter as a sympathizer, Abdul Rahman. He said an accomplice inside the ministry helped Rahman get inside the compound to kill the Americans.
Wardak indicated that President Hamid Karzai was assembling religious leaders and other Afghan officials to take urgent steps to protect coalition forces, Little said.
Slain soldier spoke of Koran backlash
An American soldier killed during protests in Afghanistan had talked with relatives about the backlash over the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base before he died. Cpl. T.J. Conrad, 22, of Roanoke, Va. — promoted posthumously to sergeant — and a Floridian were killed Thursday by an Afghan soldier. Conrad's oldest sister told the Associated Press he was in good spirits when she and other relatives chatted with him over the Internet on Wednesday, but he noted the backlash over the Koran burnings. The Department of Defense said the bodies of Conrad and Sgt. Joshua Born of Niceville were returned to Dover Air Force Base on Saturday.
As of Saturday, 1,775 U.S. troops have died in the war in Afghanistan. Identifications as reported by the U.S. military and not previously published:
• Air Force Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 30, Colorado Springs, Colo.; aircraft accident Feb. 18; Djibouti.
• Army Sgt. Allen R. McKenna Jr., 28, Noble, Okla.; Tuesday; Kandahar province.
• Air Force Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, Upper Marlboro, Md.; aircraft accident Feb. 18; Djibouti.
• Air Force Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, Newnan, Ga.; aircraft accident Feb. 18; Djibouti.
• Air Force 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, Bend, Ore.; aircraft accident Feb. 18; Djibouti.