An insider attack against international and Afghan forces in Kabul that killed a U.S. general has renewed questions about the Obama administration’s exit strategy from Afghanistan and the country’s security.
The death of Major General Harold Greene, the highest-ranking U.S. officer to die in the 13-year-old war, already has prompted a review of safety protocols as President Barack Obama seeks to withdraw almost all American troops by the end of 2016, when he will be preparing to leave office.
The two-star general was killed yesterday when a man dressed in an Afghan soldier’s uniform opened fire at the training academy, injuring as many as 15 other people. The assailant, thought to be an Afghan soldier, was killed, said Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
Republican lawmakers critical of Obama’s withdrawal plan pointed to the insider attack as a reason to change course. In May, Obama announced plans to reduce U.S. troop strength to 9,800 by the end of this year and to half that number in late 2015. Only a small security assistance force at the U.S. embassy would remain by the end of 2016, as Obama prepares to leave office.
“What happened today is not only a personal tragedy, but a setback that demands leaders in Washington and Kabul take time to assess the state of our shared campaign and the necessary steps forward,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement. “I have told the president privately and publicly that my biggest concern is that America will end its mission in Afghanistan just short of the goal line.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican, said the attack “only underscores the importance of leaving Afghanistan when the job is finished -- rather than stubbornly adhering to arbitrary political deadlines.”
Greene’s death isn’t likely to change the Obama administration’s thinking on Afghanistan, said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington who’s made repeated visits to the country.
“It is tragic, but I don’t believe it is strategically transformative in importance,” O’Hanlon said in an e-mailed statement, citing higher numbers of insider attacks in previous years.
Attacks by Afghan security personnel on U.S. and allied forces have dropped from a high of 48 in 2012 to 15 last year, according to Pentagon statistics.
“We’ve taken steps to make it harder for such attacks to succeed, but at some level risks of them happening are, tragically, the cost of doing business,” he said.
Brian Katulis, a defense analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said Obama should stick to his withdrawal plan.
An Afghan National Army soldier gestures outside the gates of a British-run military academy, where an Afghan soldier opened fire on NATO troops inside the premises, on the outskirts of Kabul, on August 5, 2014.
“Ultimately, Afghans are the only ones who can win this fight -- we can’t want it more than they do,” Katulis said in an e-mailed statement. “I see very little appetite in America for keeping U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan with no end in sight. It’s hard to see what prolonging the U.S. military presence might achieve that hasn’t been done in the last dozen-plus years.”
As the Taliban escalates attacks in Afghanistan, the country’s future leadership remains in doubt amid a protracted dispute between the two candidates over allegations of fraud in the election to choose President Hamid Karzai’s successor.
Yesterday’s attack was “an act by the enemies who don’t want to see Afghanistan have strong institutions,” Karzai said in a statement.
Greene’s death underscores the continued risk to the 30,600 U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan, even as troops are withdrawn. As of July 29, 2,338 Americans have died in the war, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Despite this sharp decline, these attacks may still have strategic effects on the campaign and could jeopardize the relationship between coalition” and Afghan personnel, the Pentagon said in April in its twice-yearly report on Afghanistan.
Among those wounded yesterday in Kabul was a German brigadier general, according to the German Defense Ministry in Berlin.
Such insider attacks are “a pernicious threat, and it’s difficult to always ascertain,” Kirby said. “It’s impossible to eliminate, completely eliminate, that threat, I think, particularly in a place like Afghanistan. But you can work hard to mitigate it.”
The latest attack, which occurred at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul, has prompted a review of safety protocols in Afghanistan, according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
“We remain committed to our mission in Afghanistan and will continue to work with our Afghan partners to ensure the safety and security of all coalition soldiers and civilians,” General Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said in a statement offering condolence’s to Greene’s family.
Greene was the highest-ranking U.S. officer to die in combat since Lieutenant General Timothy Maude was killed in the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attack on the Pentagon.
Greene was assigned to his post in Afghanistan after serving as the Army’s deputy for acquisition and systems management. A Pentagon biography says he was a native of upstate New York who graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1980 and held two master’s degrees in engineering and a Ph.D. in materials science. His decorations include the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters.