Two American service members were shot dead and a third wounded Monday in a rare “insider” attack when an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of American forces at a military base in a conflict-torn region of southern Kandahar province, Afghan defense and police officials said Tuesday.
U.S. military officials here confirmed that two American troops had been killed but did not provide any details or identify the victims, saying they needed to wait until their families were notified. A statement from the U.S. Resolute Support mission here said only that two service members had died.
According to Afghan officials, the shooter was wounded in return fire and taken into Afghan military custody. It was the first known incident, also known as a “green on blue” attack, since November, when Brent Taylor, a major in the Utah National Guard and the mayor of a town in Utah, was killed by an Afghan soldier in Kabul.
A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, Fawad Aman, confirmed that the attack had occurred on an army base in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar. “The soldier who fired on them has been wounded in a subsequent firing,” he said in a brief telephone interview early Tuesday.
A police official in Shah Wali Kot also confirmed that the incident had taken place, according to a BBC News report. Other media outlets reported that American military officials in the U.S. had confirmed the basic facts, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
According to one media report, members of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Brigade Combat team, 82nd Airborne Division, posted a Facebook tribute to their slain comrades but did not identify them.
“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the loss of two Paratroopers from the Brigade during combat operations,” the Facebook post read.
No information was immediately available about the shooter except that he was an Afghan army soldier. In past “green on blue” incidents, the attackers have included both bona fide Afghan troops who were angry, disgruntled or influenced by Taliban propaganda, and insurgent infiltrators who enlisted to attack and sabotage foreign forces.
Insider attacks have been a problem for American forces in Afghanistan over the past decade, peaking in 2012 with several high-profile incidents. But they declined significantly after U.S. military officials began placing “guardian angel” forces in the battlefield, Afghan security officials improved vetting of recruits, and a major U.S. troop drawdown began in 2014.
A total of 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed in the 18-year conflict.
In August 2014, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene was shot dead while visiting the main Afghan military academy in Kabul. He was the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be killed in the Afghan war. A uniformed Afghan soldier opened fire on Greene and a group of visiting U.S. and European military officials, wounding 11 people. His motive was not known, but the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
In October, 2018, an attacker in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on a group of Afghan and U.S. military officials who were meeting in Kandahar city, killing a senior Afghan general and two other Afghan officials. The senior U.S. military commander, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, was there at the time but was unharmed.
The United States currently has about 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan in a mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces in their fight against Taliban insurgents. They also provide combat air support for Afghan forces in the battlefield.
President Trump has said he wants to reduce their numbers significantly, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that Trump had directed him to start withdrawing the rest of the troops before the 2020 U.S. election.
The Taliban insurgents have intensified their attacks in recent months, as peace negotiations with U.S. officials have continued in Qatar. The country is especially jittery with the presidential election campaign beginning this week amid fears of more insurgent violence against candidates and voters.
On Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani’s top running mate, former national intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, narrowing escaped being killed when attackers besieged his political office in Kabul. The attack, which began with a massive suicide bomb in a vehicle, turned unto a six-hour gun battle with heavily armed attackers who killed 20 people and injured 50 more.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Pamela Constable