AT least eight international troops, a contractor and an Afghan air force pilot were killed yesterday in a shootout at Kabul international airport following an argument between the supposedly allied forces.

A 50-year-old Afghan military pilot is believed to have opened fire on US instructors during a dispute at an air force conference room at the airport, sparking a gunfight between the two sides.

The Afghan pilot was killed in the fire fight.  Officials said the eight foreign troops and a contractor were killed, but did not give their nationalities. Five Afghan soldiers were wounded.

“Suddenly, in the middle of the meeting, shooting started,” said Afghan Air Corps spokesman Colonel Bahader, who uses only one name.

“After the shooting started, we saw a number of Afghan army officers and soldiers running out of the building. Some were even throwing themselves out of the windows to get away.”

Another spokesman said the gunman had been a pilot for 20 years.

The attack highlights the tension and mutual suspicions between Afghan and coalition forces, even as US and NATO troops prepare to begin handing full control of security to Afghan forces.

Yesterday’s deaths are the latest in a string of attacks by Afghan security forces on their coalition allies, resulting in the deaths of 36 NATO soldiers since March 2009.

Earlier this month, an Afghan man wearing a border police uniform shot and killed two US military personnel in northwest Faryab province in retaliation for the burning of the Koran at a Florida church. In February, an Afghan soldier shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six more in northern Baghlan province.

And in November last year an Afghan border policeman – apparently stressed over being forced into an arranged marriage – gunned down six US soldiers in eastern Nangarhar province.

Also casting doubt on the readiness of the Afghan administration was the escape of at least 488 mostly Taliban prisoners from Kandahar City’s showcase Sarposa Prison over five hours from Sunday night.

The mass escape has given the Taliban a huge morale boost ahead of their summer fighting season. Militants have bragged of the five months spent digging the 320m tunnel from a safe house.

It’s an embarrassment for the Ministry of Justice and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who intimated yesterday the prison break was an inside job.

Another Taliban militant told of how cells in the high-security jail were routinely left unlocked.

Justice Minister Habibullah Ghalib has conceded in a memo to Mr Karzai that jail officials or guards were likely accomplices.

The memo noted Afghan police searched the house from which the tunnel originated following a tip-off 2 1/2 months before the breakout, but reported nothing suspicious. It added that Canadian and US forces were responsible for security improvements to the prison.

An intelligence officer said authorities had warned jail officials of reports the Taliban were planning something.

The Taliban claim more than 100 of the escapees were mid-level officers.