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American General Killed in Afghanistan in Insider Attack Is First Since 1970

An American general who was shot Tuesday allegedly by a member of the Afghan military became the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be killed in a war zone since 1970. The inside attack, which took place at Afghanistan’s National Defense University in Kabul, also injured more than a dozen members of the International Security Assistance Force ...

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

An American general who was shot Tuesday allegedly by a member of the Afghan military became the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be killed in a war zone since 1970.

The inside attack, which took place at Afghanistan’s National Defense University in Kabul, also injured more than a dozen members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), defense officials said. A one-star German was wounded, the German armed forces said. The shooter, allegedly a member of the Afghan military, was killed in the course of the attack, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby confirmed Tuesday.

So-called “green-on-blue,” or insider attacks, when insurgents either disguised as or within the Afghan security forces turn their weapons on NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan, are common. But a number of factors, including measures implemented by ISAF, have diminished their prevalence in the last two years. The last confirmed green-on-blue incident occurred in February in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province, although a June 23 attack involving an Afghan police officer and two injured ISAF soldiers is still being investigated.

The Pentagon would not confirm the officer’s identity but reportedly it was Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, a two-star general. He is the highest-ranking officer killed in a war zone since 2001. Before that, the last time such a high-ranking officer was killed on the battlefield was in the Vietnam era.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kirby said the shooting began during a “routine site visit” at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University. Kirby did not say whether the general was specifically targeted. A Defense official said Tuesday that it was fairly clear that Greene was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. An investigation into the incident is underway, Kirby said.

Insider attacks against ISAF and Afghan forces hit an all-time high in 2012, resulting in 48 deaths, or approximately 15 percent of coalition casualties that year. In comparison, green-on-blue attacks accounted for 6 percent of coalition deaths in 2011 and 2 percent in 2010. Prior to that, only 14 personnel were killed in insider attacks from 2003 to 2009. The 2011 increase and 2012 spike corresponded with President Barack Obama’s 2011 pledge to end U.S. combat operations by 2014 and shift security responsibility to Afghan forces. The looming transition led to a large recruiting push for more Afghan troops. Moreover, ramped-up training of Afghan forces by ISAF personnel created new opportunities for cultural misunderstandings and friction. During the same span, the Taliban increased the frequency of their attacks and supposedly stepped up efforts to infiltrate Afghan forces.

 

Cultural differences and personal enmity between coalition and Afghan soldiers cause the majority of green-on-blue attacks, NATO commanders claim. However, the Afghan government blames infiltration by foreign spy agencies.

In light of the surge in green-on-blue violence, the U.S. military and ISAF implemented a number of measures to help mitigate — but not eliminate, as Defense officials are quick to note — the attacks’ damage. Limiting the number of ISAF personnel working closely with Afghan soldiers and launching a program in which so-called “Guardian Angels” — armed guards — stand watch over coalition personnel during training exercises and other close engagements are among the changes since 2012. The Taliban eventually took credit for many such attacks, leading the Afghanistan National Security Forces to better vet recruits. That has slowed the level of Taliban infiltration.

Green-on-blue attacks dropped to 15 in 2013.

“Despite this sharp decline, these attacks may still have strategic effects on the campaign and could jeopardize the relationship between coalition and Afghan National Security Force personnel,” according to a Pentagon report on progress made in Afghanistan published in April.

The latest attack isn’t about numbers, military groups point out.

“We know that today, somewhere in America, a military family is receiving the dreaded knock on the door, telling them that a life has been given in service to country,” a statement issued by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) read Tuesday. “For the family of a fallen service member — it is not a news story, it is personal.”

An American general who was shot Tuesday allegedly by a member of the Afghan military became the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be killed in a war zone since 1970.

The inside attack, which took place at Afghanistan’s National Defense University in Kabul, also injured more than a dozen members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), defense officials said. A one-star German was wounded, the German armed forces said. The shooter, allegedly a member of the Afghan military, was killed in the course of the attack, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby confirmed Tuesday.

So-called “green-on-blue,” or insider attacks, when insurgents either disguised as or within the Afghan security forces turn their weapons on NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan, are common. But a number of factors, including measures implemented by ISAF, have diminished their prevalence in the last two years. The last confirmed green-on-blue incident occurred in February in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province, although a June 23 attack involving an Afghan police officer and two injured ISAF soldiers is still being investigated.

The Pentagon would not confirm the officer’s identity but reportedly it was Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, a two-star general. He is the highest-ranking officer killed in a war zone since 2001. Before that, the last time such a high-ranking officer was killed on the battlefield was in the Vietnam era.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kirby said the shooting began during a “routine site visit” at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University. Kirby did not say whether the general was specifically targeted. A Defense official said Tuesday that it was fairly clear that Greene was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. An investigation into the incident is underway, Kirby said.

Insider attacks against ISAF and Afghan forces hit an all-time high in 2012, resulting in 48 deaths, or approximately 15 percent of coalition casualties that year. In comparison, green-on-blue attacks accounted for 6 percent of coalition deaths in 2011 and 2 percent in 2010. Prior to that, only 14 personnel were killed in insider attacks from 2003 to 2009. The 2011 increase and 2012 spike corresponded with President Barack Obama’s 2011 pledge to end U.S. combat operations by 2014 and shift security responsibility to Afghan forces. The looming transition led to a large recruiting push for more Afghan troops. Moreover, ramped-up training of Afghan forces by ISAF personnel created new opportunities for cultural misunderstandings and friction. During the same span, the Taliban increased the frequency of their attacks and supposedly stepped up efforts to infiltrate Afghan forces.

 

Cultural differences and personal enmity between coalition and Afghan soldiers cause the majority of green-on-blue attacks, NATO commanders claim. However, the Afghan government blames infiltration by foreign spy agencies.

In light of the surge in green-on-blue violence, the U.S. military and ISAF implemented a number of measures to help mitigate — but not eliminate, as Defense officials are quick to note — the attacks’ damage. Limiting the number of ISAF personnel working closely with Afghan soldiers and launching a program in which so-called “Guardian Angels” — armed guards — stand watch over coalition personnel during training exercises and other close engagements are among the changes since 2012. The Taliban eventually took credit for many such attacks, leading the Afghanistan National Security Forces to better vet recruits. That has slowed the level of Taliban infiltration.

Green-on-blue attacks dropped to 15 in 2013.

“Despite this sharp decline, these attacks may still have strategic effects on the campaign and could jeopardize the relationship between coalition and Afghan National Security Force personnel,” according to a Pentagon report on progress made in Afghanistan published in April.

The latest attack isn’t about numbers, military groups point out.

“We know that today, somewhere in America, a military family is receiving the dreaded knock on the door, telling them that a life has been given in service to country,” a statement issued by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) read Tuesday. “For the family of a fallen service member — it is not a news story, it is personal.”

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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