WASHINGTON — A U.S. 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 combat overseas since the Vietnam War.
The shooting renewed fears about whether U.S. troops can work safely alongside their Afghan counterparts. Fourteen NATO troops, including a German brigadier general, were wounded.
Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno identified the slain officer as Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, a 34-year Army veteran whose widow is a retired Army colonel.
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 over a decade of war. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said he had seen "no indication that there is a degradation of trust" between American and Afghan troops in light of the attack.
But the fatal shooting of such a high-ranking officer by a member of a supposedly friendly force revived fears that American 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 by the end of the year. As many as 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after that withdrawal.
Greene, who had 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.
Greene's Army biography notes the general has never been assigned to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. And officials at U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, both headquartered at MacDill, said he had not been assigned to their commands.
He was meeting with commanders from several other allied countries at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University at Camp Qargha in Kabul, the Afghan capital, when gunfire erupted about 12:30 p.m. local time.
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.
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 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 Kirby would not say by whom. The Afghan defense ministry said in a statement Afghan soldiers killed the attacker.
Kirby also said he did not know if the general was targeted, either personally or because he was an American 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."
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, American troops in Afghanistan are to exercise extreme caution when dealing with their Afghan counterparts, including through the posting of so-called "guardian angels" — armed security — to supervise any gathering that includes Afghan troops.
Since January 2008, there have been 87 green-on-blue attacks, 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.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.