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Killing of U.S. General by Afghan Soldier Underscores Obama’s “Deep Problems” in Winding Down War

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A U.S. general has been killed in Afghanistan in what the Pentagon says is the latest insider attack by an Afghan soldier. Major General Harold Greene reportedly died after the soldier opened fire at a British-run military academy near the capital, Kabul. Up to 14 coalition troops were wounded. Greene was the deputy commanding general for the command involved in preparing the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition troops at the end of the year. He is the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed in combat since the Vietnam War. We speak to Matthieu Aikens, an award-winning investigative journalist based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Aikins recently investigated possible war crimes in Afghanistan for Al Jazeera America and has previously covered insider attacks. “This kind of attack shows just how the deep the problem runs,” Aikins says. “Even at the highest levels, what should have been a highly secured group of senior officers, [insider attacks] can do damage. It will certainly restrict even more the already limited contact [U.S.-led NATO forces] have with the Afghans.”

Click here to watch Part 2 of this interview.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Afghanistan, where a two-star U.S. general was killed Tuesday in what the Pentagon says is the latest insider attack by an Afghan soldier. The attack occurred at a British-run military academy near the capital, Kabul. U.S. officials said Major General Harold Greene was shot by the Afghan soldier at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University. Up to 14 coalition troops were wounded in the attack. General Greene is the highest-ranking U.S. military official to have been killed in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the implications of this, we’re joined now by Matthieu Aikins, an award-winning investigative journalist based in Kabul, Afghanistan, who’s reported on past, what are known as, insider attacks.

Matt Aikins, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of the killing of General Greene.

MATTHIEU AIKINS: Sure. Well, these insider attacks, or green-on-blue attacks, as some people call them, were a devastating problem for the Americans and NATO. They spiked in 2012, when they killed 64 troops, which was 16 percent of all combat deaths that year. So the only way that they really were able to stop them was by drastically curtailing contact and training with the Afghan security forces, which is of course a key part of the plan to transition to Afghan control and get out of Afghanistan. So this kind of attack shows just how deep the problem runs, and that even at the highest levels, in what should have been a highly secure group of senior officers, can do damage. And it will certainly restrict even more the already limited contact they have with the Afghans.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And why do you think—why was Major General Greene targeted? I mean, he is responsible for overseeing the transition and the withdrawal of troops.

MATTHIEU AIKINS: You know, it was probably just an attack of opportunity. The guy saw a group of senior officers and fired from a window of a building. I don’t think he knew who he was shooting at, but he definitely knew they’re important targets.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what do you think will change about U.S. policy regarding the almost 10,000 troops who are likely to stay in Afghanistan even after the withdrawal?

MATTHIEU AIKINS: Well, I think it’s going to accelerate the case for pulling out, for getting out. You know, Obama’s plan right now is to have all of the military force out by 2017. So it’s probably only going to give added impetus for that. There’s a lot of concern, obviously, given what’s happening in Iraq, where you have a complete—near disintegration of large portions of the security forces.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece called “A U.S.-Backed Militia Runs Amok in Afghanistan.” We were just talking about war crimes in Gaza.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you found in Afghanistan?

MATTHIEU AIKINS: We found that three men, who had been rounded up in a joint U.S. Special Forces-Afghan Commando raid, were then handed over to an illegal militia that they were cooperating with in this local area, and that militia then executed on the same day those three men. The U.S. military said they thought the men were released unharmed. They even denied working with this militia. When we found the militia commander, a man named Abdullah, he admitted to executing the three men, saying they were Taliban, and said that the U.S. Special Forces supplied him with money, with weapons and with training.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And in your work there, you’ve lived in Kabul for many years. How common is an incident like that, from the research that you’ve done?

MATTHIEU AIKINS: You know, it’s probably a lot more common than we realize. In this case, it took weeks of grueling, on-the-ground research just to unearth something, that was completely denied by the military.

AMY GOODMAN: And the hundreds of thousands of weapons sent to Afghanistan that the Pentagon says they can’t find.

MATTHIEU AIKINS: Yeah, it’s a half-a-million small arms that we flooded into a country that’s already suffered from 30 years of war.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Matthieu Aikins, for joining us. Matthieu Aikins is an award-winning journalist, going back right now to Kabul, based there, recently investigated possible war crimes in Afghanistan in an article for Al Jazeera called “A U.S.-Backed Militia Runs Amok in Afghanistan.” We’ll link to it at democracynow.org.

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