Friday, December 15, 2017

Afghan rockets damage U.S. general's plane

KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents hiding outside the heavily fortified Bagram Air Base fired a pair of rockets early Tuesday that damaged the parked C-17 transport plane used by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

"Gen. Dempsey was in quarters asleep when the rockets hit the airfield," which is 35 miles north of Kabul, said Col. David Lapan, the general's spokesman. "He was not nearby and not in danger."

Two base service members were slightly wounded, and the damage to the C-17 was enough to force Dempsey and officials traveling with him, none of whom were hurt, to leave Afghanistan a few hours later than planned on a different aircraft.

The airplane was not directly hit, but flying shrapnel struck the crew door, the fuselage to the left of the door and one engine cowling, said Lapan, who was on the trip. A helicopter at the base was also damaged.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said militants planned Tuesday's rocket attack with "precise intelligence" provided by someone inside the air base. But Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S.-led NATO coalition, said there was no indication that Dempsey was the target or that militants knew the C-17 was his plane. He said rockets or mortar shells strike the airfield about twice a month, usually to little effect.

"It's a common occurrence up there," Graybeal said, adding that the two maintenance workers suffered "very minor wounds, cuts and bruises."

The attack came after Dempsey had met senior U.S. and Afghan leaders to discuss the growing crisis of Afghan police officers and soldiers gunning down U.S. and NATO troops in so-called green-on-blue or insider attacks. NATO officials worry that the killings — 40 U.S. and NATO troops have died from such attacks this year — could undermine the exit strategy of steadily training and turning over security to Afghan forces during the next two years, before a near-total withdrawal of Western military forces.

Dempsey later flew to Iraq, where he met with officials in that country. It was the first such visit by America's top general since U.S. troops withdrew from the country in December.

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