FEBRUARY 27 2012 13:29h

U.S. officers killed in high security area

U.S. officers killed in high security area

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KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The shootings of two U.S. senior military officers in Kabul occurred in a high-security area of the Afghan Interior Ministry, sources told The New York Times.

One of the two officers killed was identified by the U.S. Defense Department as Air Force Lt. Col. John D. Loftis, 44, of Paducah, Ky. The other was a major, whose name has not yet been released. The shootings occurred amid the wave of violent Koran-burnings in the country.

The two died at the ministry's National Police Coordination Center, a high-security area accessible only to an elite group of Afghan officers using a special code, the Times reported.

It had not yet been confirmed if the two officers were armed. In any case, military officials told the Times the two could not have been expecting an attack.

A nationwide manhunt was ordered for the suspect, believed to be a driver for senior officials with years of service in the ministry, the report said. The suspect, hired as a non-commissioned officer, had won the trust of his bosses and foreign advisers and had access to the coordination center, the sources said.

The suspect reportedly entered a small room with no security cameras where the two American officers were sitting, and shot them in the head with a silencer-fitted pistol.

The Times said the suspect apparently was able to leave the ministry without complications, suggesting outside help. Two officials told the Times the suspect had shown odd behavior in recent months and had prolonged absences from work. Though fired, he was later reinstated.

The Times quoted Afghan officials as saying the killings, a serious breach of trust, could adversely impact training efforts.

Afghan security officials said they later searched the suspect's home but found nothing.