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During His First Combat Deployment, U.S. General Is Killed


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene, good morning. It is rare for a top U.S. military officer to be killed in the line of duty. But yesterday Army Major General Harold Greene became the highest-ranking American to be killed while deployed overseas since the Vietnam War. He was killed in Afghanistan by an Afghan soldier at a coalition training facility in Kabul. The gunmen opened fire with a machine gun, killing General Greene and wounding 15 other NATO service members. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here in the studio with us. Tom good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning David.

GREENE: So, the highest-ranking officer to be killed in the line of duty overseas since Vietnam. That's - that is amazing. How significant is this?

BOWMAN: You know it is significant David. The president called General Joe Dunford, the commander in Afghanistan yesterday to talk about the death and to talk about does General Dunford still has trust in the Afghan army. And the general said yes he does. But it's a huge blow to everyone over there I think.

GREENE: Can you tell us more about General Greene?

BOWMAN: You know, David, he was not like most generals you meet over there who have multiple combat tour, that are either infantry officers or armor officers. General Greene had PhD in material science from University of Southern California. He had served most of his army career in, you know, purchasing weapons for the Army or engineering jobs in Turkey, Greece, in Germany. This was his first full-time combat deployment. He had made short trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. But he was basically an engineer and a scientist. And a friend said that he wanted to use his scientific and engineering skills to help soldiers. For example coming up with ways to defeat a roadside bombs.

GREENE: Based on what we know so far this morning, how do we think this happened?

BOWMAN: Well, officials say they believe this is what's commonly called, green on blue attack. That's when someone in an Afghan army or police uniform opens fire on an American or Afghan soldiers. We haven't seen many of these kinds of attacks this year. This is just the second. But back in 2012 it was a very serious problem. There were more than 40 separate attacks, killing dozens of U.S. and allied soldiers. And what happened two years ago is they came up with some sort of ways to get around this. There was more vetting for Afghan soldiers and so forth. But it's just - it's very difficult to try to prevent something like this. And you have to have a certain amount of trust with the Afghan soldiers. And that can fray in situations like this.

GREENE: I do want to underscore this. I mean this was an attack that occurred at a training base for Afghan military officers. But it was being run by British forces, so a place where people would feel relative safety, that they could walk around and not be under threat.

BOWMAN: That's right. And all these U.S. and allied officers were observing the training of these Afghans. And remember, at the end of this year the Afghan officers are suppose to take full control of security. So, you're right there is a certain bond they have here, you know, between the allied officers and the Afghans - a certain amount of trust. You know, a lot of times when you go in there and observe the training you don't have your full body army on, let's say. You know, there's a comradely, I think, that's building. So, again something like this can really, you know, hurt the trust between the two sides.

GREENE: Well, what - as that trust begins to build, I mean, as you say an event like this could really hurt that. At facilities like this, as Afghans begin to take on more of the security role, I mean, are American officials worried that there are going to be more attacks like this kind?

BOWMAN: They are worried. As the troop drawdown begins, they're worried about security for American soldiers. So, they're going to have to be very, very careful as they drawdown this year and into next. When it's a full training and assist mission, that they do have, what they call, force protection for the American soldiers.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Tom Bowman talking to us about an attacks on NATO troops that killed an U.S. Army general yesterday. Thanks Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.