An Afghanistan police commander and a number of junior officers have defected to the Taliban and handed over their weapons and equipment, reported the BBC today, in an incident that may be the largest Afghan police side-switch in recent memory.
There are conflicting reports about their numbers: Reuters claims that 12 junior officers defected along with the senior commander, while the BBC reports that 13 junior officers left the force.
The instigator, whom Reuters identified as Mirwais, allegedly poisoned seven comrades who refused to join him, who have been taken to the hospital.
Mirwais and the junior officers were stationed at a checkpoint in Bala Boluk district, which is located in Farah province in Afghanistan's West, the BBC reports. The region is near Iran.
It's a major embarrassment for the Afghan government, reports Bilal Sarwary of the BBC, especially as the Taliban has now received a major influx of much-needed — and useful — equipment.
According to the BBC, the equipment includes "rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine-guns, radios and police vehicles, including two Humvees."
The BBC reports that Humvees are a potent status-symbol for Taliban commanders. In 2008, Taliban fighters attacked a US convoy and made off with two of the massive military vehicles, reported CNN.
"Mirwais and his policemen had joined the force nearly two-and-a-half years ago. Mirwais had fought the insurgents in this area for quite some time," an Afghan intelligence official reportedly told Sarwary.
"Long before he defected, he must have been passing intelligence and crucial information to the insurgents," the Afghan official added.
Although this incident occurred on Sunday, details of the commander's defection were only released today, reported the BBC — and its timing, soon before a planned 2014 Western security handover, is worrisome in the extreme.
According to Reuters, national intelligence officials denied Afghan media rumors that two in the nation's High Peace Council had defected to the Taliban side.