Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

U.S. general's killing may be a bad omen

By Peter Bergen and David Sterman
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • On Tuesday, an Afghan soldier killed a U.S. major general in an insider attack
  • Writers: Insider attacks nothing new, but it's an ominous sign as combat troops withdraw
  • They say advisory forces who stay might be more vulnerable to insider attacks
  • Writers: Pentagon says trust between Afghans, Americans is solid: Trust is key

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad." David Sterman is a research assistant at the New America Foundation.

(CNN) -- On Tuesday, an Afghan soldier killed a U.S. major general and wounded a German brigadier general, as well as up to 15 others, in an attack at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The attack is an ominous sign regarding the potential risks to American service members as the majority of U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen
David Sterman
David Sterman

If a Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan is signed in coming months, the United States is likely to keep a residual force of around 9,800 troops in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops at the end of 2014.

This residual force would serve in an advisory role to Afghan troops, which could further expose American forces to insider attacks.

Officials identified the American who was killed as Maj. Gen. Harold Greene. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Afghan soldier who carried out the attack was shot and killed.

Although directed at high-ranking officers, it was far from the first insider attack on coalition troops in Afghanistan.

According to a count by the New America Foundation, there have been 82 such attacks on coalition personnel over the course of the Afghan War. The numbers refer to Afghan police and army members attacking NATO troops.

Respected U.S. General killed in attack
Confidence in Afghan security shaken?

During the early years of the war, there were very few insider attacks. But they took off in 2011. That year, the number rose to 14, followed by a peak of 40 in 2012.

At least 145 U.S. and other NATO soldiers have been killed by Afghan soldiers, according to New America's data.

So far, in 2014 there have been only three such attacks, including Tuesday's in Kabul, and an attack on June 23 in Gardez, Paktia, where two American military advisers were injured in a shooting by an Afghan police officer.

Before that, on February 12, two American Special Forces members were killed in Afghanistan's Kapisa province by gunmen wearing Afghan National Security Force uniforms.

In April 2011, in an attack that killed the most coalition personnel, an Afghan military pilot killed eight American soldiers and a military contractor during a meeting in the operations room of the Afghan Air Corps at Kabul Airport.

Insider attacks have taken their largest toll on troops from the United States, which contributes the largest contingent of forces to operations in Afghanistan

Military members from Albania, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom have also been targets.

Still, the number of deaths in insider attacks on foreign forces has been declining -- although they spiked in 2012, when 59 coalition members were killed. In 2011, there were 36; in 2013, there were 18.

The United States took several steps after insider attacks became a large-scale problem, including improving vetting of Afghan security personnel and putting more counterintelligence assets into the field to try to detect threats.

Kirby downplayed the significance of Tuesday's attacks, asserting that he has "seen no indication that there's a degradation of trust between coalition members and their Afghan counterparts."

Maintaining that trust as U.S. combat troops withdraw will be key.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT