KABUL, Afghanistan: A US general has been shot dead in Afghanistan, becoming the highest-ranking American officer to be killed since 9/11, in an insider attack that left more than a dozen wounded including a senior German officer.
The shooting, which killed Major General Harold J. Greene, rocked the US-led project to train up the Afghan army as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) combat forces withdraw after 13 years of fighting the Taliban.
The assault is the first time a US general has been killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War, and will do little to alleviate deep mistrust between international troops and their Afghan allies.
Greene, who was the deputy for acquisitions at the US Army headquarters in Washington, was also the highest-ranking US officer slain since the September 11, 2001 attacks, when Lieutenant General Timothy Joseph Maude was killed by a hijacked airliner that crashed into the Pentagon.
The Afghan soldier was himself killed after he opened fire during a high-level visit by NATO officers on Tuesday to the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, a sprawling training complex on the outskirts of the capital.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Major General Harold J. Greene’s family, and the families of our soldiers who were injured today in the tragic events,” said US army chief General Ray Odierno.
A US official, speaking to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity, said that around 15 people were injured, including eight Americans.
The nationalities of the other victims were unclear, but the German army said that one of its generals was wounded, while officials in Kabul said at least three Afghan officers were hurt.
Fierce mistrust among troops
Afghan officials had earlier described the attacker as a man wearing Afghan uniform, suggesting he may not have been a soldier. But US officials later confirmed the assailant was a soldier.
The shooting was by far the highest profile “insider attack” of the Afghan conflict, in which scores of US-led NATO troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers turning their guns on their allies.
Also known as “green on blue” attacks, the killings have bred fierce mistrust among soldiers and forced joint patrols to be overseen by armed guards.
The Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, and Western officials say that most such attacks stem from personal grudges and cultural misunderstandings rather than insurgent plots.
“Insider attacks” declined rapidly last year as NATO combat troops closed many bases and reduced operations before their complete withdrawal by the end of this year. Screening of Afghan army recruits was also tightened.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby described the attack as an isolated incident, and credited Afghan troops for their work in securing national elections.
“It’s impossible to eliminate—completely eliminate—that threat, I think, particularly in a place like Afghanistan, but you can work hard to mitigate it,” he said.
President Hamid Karzai condemned Tuesday’s attack as a “cowardly” strike against Afghan and NATO officers.
“It is the work of those enemies who do not want to see Afghanistan have its own strong institutions,” he said.
General Mohammed Afzal Aman, the chief of staff for operations at the Afghan Ministry of Defence, told Agence France-Presse that three Afghan army officers were injured.
“ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] have quarantined the site, allowing nobody, including Afghan forces, to approach,” he said.
An official statement from Berlin said the injured German brigadier general was not in a life-threatening condition.
The Afghan military has been built from scratch since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and it has struggled with high casualty rates, “insider attack” killings, mass desertions, and equipment shortages.
In February this year, two Afghan men wearing military uniforms shot dead two US soldiers in the eastern province of Kapisa.
Also on Tuesday, Afghan officials accused an ISAF air strike of killing four civilians in the western province of Herat.
“After rockets were fired at Shindand airbase, an aircraft carried out strikes on the area where they were launched,” Herat’s deputy governor Asiludin Jami told Agence France-Presse.
“A man, a woman, a kid and a teenager were killed. They were all civilians,” he added.
ISAF said it took all allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and was assessing the facts surrounding Monday’s incident.
Afghanistan is holding an audit of eight million votes cast in presidential elections as a dispute over fraud threatens to trigger a spiral of ethnic violence.