This story has been updated throughout.
An Afghan Army soldier opened fire during a meeting of high-ranking American, NATO and Afghan military officials on Tuesday, killing a U.S. Army major general and wounding a German brigadier general and 14 other coalition forces, officials said.
The brazen attack took place at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul, where International Security Assistance Forces, or ISAF, are training officers of the Afghan National Security Forces. Eight Americans are among the wounded, but are expected to survive, ABC News reported.
The general was identified as Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, a two-star general who arrived in Afghanistan in January. Greene left his position as deputy for acquisition and systems management at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army in Washington, D.C. in January to become deputy commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, which is responsible for training Afghan forces. Greene is the highest-ranking officer to be killed in combat since Vietnam, according to media reports.
The attacker was killed at the scene, though it’s unclear who killed him. “We believe this individual was a member of the Afghan security force,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday, adding that a joint ISAF-Afghan investigation is currently underway. “As I understand it, it as a routine visit to the National Defense University, which is akin to sort of their officers’ academy.”
As the war winds down and the Afghan military takes the lead in ensuring its own security, the insider attack highlights the increasing difficulty of controlling Afghan military installations. “We don’t control the vetting of the Afghans. The Afghans do,” said Ret. Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a military analyst forCNN. “They control who has access.” Insider attacks increased to an alarming level in 2012. Since then, ISAF officials have put several measures in place to help protect coalition troops, such as restrictions on where weapons can be carried. But, as Francona said, “You’re at the mercy of the Afghans because it becomes their facility.”
ISAF officials established several new procedures to take precautions after a spate of insider attacks in 2012, but Kirby said it’s impossible to prevent them completely. “ISAF did institute some measures to help mitigate the threat,” he said, “not eliminate it, but mitigate it.”
“Afghanistan is still a war zone, so it’s impossible to completely eliminate that threat, particularly in a place like Afghanistan, but you can work hard to mitigate it,” he said, adding that the drop in such attacks is a “testament to the good work authorities have done in ISAF to mitigate that.”
In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the attack was carried out by people who “don’t want to see Afghanistan have strong institutions.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called ISAF Commander Gen. Joseph Dunford, who reassured him that the trust between ISAF and Afghan forces was still strong. The Afghans “continue to perform at a very strong level of confidence and competence,” Kirby said, and their ability “grows stronger by the week.”
“I’ve seen no indication that there’s a degradation of trust,” Kirby said.
The attack also comes as ISAF prepares for a change of command. Dunford will head to Washington, D.C., soon to become the next Marine Corps commandant and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell is heading to Kabul later this month to replace Dunford. Campbell will essentially bring the war to its official end after more than 13 years. Campbell will oversee the drawdown of U.S. troops, which will shrink to a residual force of 9,800 by the end of this year.
Recent reports indicate that the Taliban has been gaining ground during this fighting season, and some officials have expressed the concern that they’re just waiting out the drawdown of ISAF forces.
Yet U.S. military leaders have said that any recent gains made by the Taliban are fleeting, as they are unable to hold any territory.
“I don’t see any impact to the current plans to drawdown our forces in Afghanistan,” Kirby said.