WASHINGTON — An American major general was fatally gunned down by an Afghan soldier Tuesday at a Kabul military academy, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed in a war zone overseas since the Vietnam War and renewing fears about the ability of U.S. troops to work safely alongside their Afghan counterparts.
Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno identified the officer as Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, a 34-year Army veteran whose widow is a retired Army colonel.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene’s family, and the families of our soldiers who were injured today in the tragic events that took place in Afghanistan,” Gen. Odierno said. “These soldiers were professionals, committed to the mission.”
Gen. Greene, 55, a native of upstate New York, was serving as deputy commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the international coalition responsible for training the Afghan army.
His death shocked the usually unflappable military community after more than a decade of war. Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said he had seen “no indication that there is a ddegradation of trust” between American and Afghan troops in light of the attack.
But the shooting death of such a high-ranking officer by a member of a supposedly friendly force revived fears that U.S. advisers will face danger not just from the enemy as they carry out their training mission in Afghanistan once U.S. combat forces complete their withdrawal at the end of the year. As many as 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after that withdrawal.
Gen. Greene, who held a doctorate in materials science from the University of Southern California, arrived in Afghanistan in January for his first combat tour after a career working as an engineering support officer. He was meeting with commanders from several other allied countries at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul, the Afghan capital, when gunfire erupted around 12:30 p.m. local time.
Adm. Kirby described it as a “routine site visit,” though the German military, in a statement released in Berlin, described the gathering as a meeting of key military leaders. A German brigadier general was wounded in the shooting, but was expected to survive, the German statement said.
The shooter, a vetted two-year member of the Afghan army, reportedly used a PKM machine gun, a staple of the Russian army, to spray the gathering with bullets. In addition to Gen. Greene and the German general, 13 NATO soldiers, some of them Americans, were wounded, according to German and U.S. military officials.
The shooter, who was in uniform, was killed by return fire, but Adm. Kirby would not say by whom. The Afghan defense ministry said in a statement that Afghan soldiers killed the attacker. Adm. Kirby also said he did not know whether the general was targeted, either personally or because he was a U.S. commander.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Taliban praised the attacker, albeit while incorrectly stating that an Italian soldier had been killed. In its statement, the Taliban said the victims were “trying to evaluate the effectiveness of their puppets’ military training when the attack happened.”
Adm. Kirby said a joint NATO-Afghan investigation was under way and refused to give any details about the circumstances of the attack, including why the coalition officers had gathered at the training center. A defense official told McClatchy that the commanders were reviewing part of the site outdoors when the attack occurred. In London, the British Defense Ministry said it also was conducting an investigation since the British oversaw the training school and program where the shooting took place.
Afghanistan commander Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford briefed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Adm. Kirby said.
It was not known what security precautions were in place when the shooting took place. Under tough rules imposed to head off so-called green-on-blue attacks, U.S. troops in Afghanistan are to exercise extreme caution when dealing with their Afghan counterparts, including posting so-called “guardian angels” — armed security to supervise any gathering that includes Afghan troops.
Green-on-blue attacks have been a major problem of the United States presence in Afghanistan. Since January 2008, there have been 87 such incidents, some by Taliban fighters who have infiltrated the Afghan security forces, others by disgruntled members of the army or police. But such incidents have been rare in recent months as U.S. troops ended participation in combat missions and remained on bases where strict security rules were the norm for meetings with Afghans. According to the Pentagon, the last green-on-blue incident happened in February, when two Special Forces members were killed by an Afghan in Kapisa in eastern Afghanistan.afghanistan - United States - North America - Asia - United States military - United States government - Kabul - Central Asia - Taliban - Chuck Hagel - U.S. Department of Defense - Afghan armed forces - Afghanistan government - Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. - North Atlantic Treaty Organization - Raymond T. Odierno - Germany government - German armed forces