- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A general became the U.S. military’s highest-ranking fatality in the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday when an Afghan soldier opened fire at a military training academy west of the capital, Kabul — a bloody reminder of the insider attacks that have been decreasing as international troops prepare to leave the country by the end of the year.

Pentagon officials declined to identify the slain general by name and rank, pending notification of next of kin. The Associated Press identified him as Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, deputy commander of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.

The American general and about 15 other U.S. and foreign troops, including a German brigadier general and two Afghan generals, were shot during a visit to Marshal Fahim National Defense University, officials said. About half of the injured were Americans, and the wounds ranged from minor to serious.

The gunman was killed by Afghan security forces during the attack, Afghan and U.S. officials said, adding that an investigation is underway.

President Obama, who was briefed on the incident, offered his thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

“This shooting is, of course, a painful reminder of the service and sacrifice our men and women in uniform make every day for this country,” Mr. Earnest said.

He added that by phasing out U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, there have been fewer deaths and injuries in recent months.

“Because of our efforts to wind down the war, and because of the changing mission of American personnel in Afghanistan, we have seen a decline in the casualty rate of American personnel there,” the White House spokesman said.

Still, Tuesday’s shooting highlights the dangers as the U.S.-led coalition withdraws and Afghanistan’s nascent forces assume responsibility for securing their country. However, Pentagon officials said the incident would not affect the scheduled withdrawal. About 30,000 U.S. troops remain in the country.

The shooting was the third insider, or “green on blue,” attack this year and the first fatal assault since February, according to The Long War Journal, which chronicles such incidents.

Some previous attacks were carried out by Taliban operatives who had infiltrated the Afghan army’s ranks; others resulted from Afghan soldiers influenced by the Taliban or outraged over some interaction with foreign troops. The gunman’s motive for Tuesday’s assault was not known.

Insider attacks had numbered in the dozens just two years ago and have been on the decline as U.S. commanders implemented strategies to improve American troops’ relations with their Afghan trainees and as Afghan authorities conducted more thorough vetting of recruits.

“Essentially, you had what had been a major achievement in that these attacks had decreased, and today it’s happened again,” said Michael Kugelman, senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “So it’s sort of a case not of the same old story but, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again.’”

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as a “cowardly … act by the enemies who don’t want to see Afghanistan have strong institutions.”

Additionally, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on local and international troops.

Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid praised in a statement the “Afghan soldier” who carried out the attack. He did not claim the Taliban carried out the attack, although in the past the Taliban have encouraged such actions.

During a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said it was unclear whether the Afghan soldier had targeted the general or anyone specific in the coalition group as they conducted a routine tour of the military academy.

But for those who have been tracking the progress and setbacks as Afghanistan lurches toward democracy, the attack is indicative of the increasing unrest and volatility among the Afghan Taliban, said Mr. Kugelman. As foreign troops have withdrawn from the country, the Taliban have become increasingly emboldened and have launched more attacks, he said.

“That would suggest that the Taliban may well be behind this attack and, you know, taking another opportunity to go after Afghan forces and U.S. forces,” he said.

Adm. Kirby said he believes the general slain Tuesday was the highest-ranking officer to be killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Mark Jacobson, a former NATO deputy civilian representative to Afghanistan and now a senior adviser at the private Truman National Security Project, said the threat of Afghan troops turning their guns of their American partners is a serious problem.

“Any sort of insider attack, no matter who the victim is, is going to have an impact on the morale of soldiers,” Mr. Jacobsen said, adding that when a higher-ranking officer is killed, “you might see a wider impact on morale.”

Green-on-blue attacks can be particularly brutal. In January 2012 Afghan security officers used AK-47 assault rifles to shoot and kill a cluster of coalition soldiers at an overnight observation post in the Mizan district of Zabul Province. That incident prompted NATO to cancel joint patrols with Afghan security forces for several days, according to news reports.

At the time of Tuesday’s shooting, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force had safety measures in place “to help mitigate” but not eliminate potential threats, Adm. Kirby said.

“Afghanistan is still a war zone,” he said. “So it’s impossible to eliminate — to completely eliminate — that threat, especially in Afghanistan.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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