KABUL, Afghanistan — Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, a 34-year veteran and Albany native, was shot to death Tuesday in Afghanistan when a gunman dressed as an Afghan soldier turned on allied troops, wounding about 15, including a German general and two Afghan generals.
Greene, a 1977 Guilderland High School graduate and 1980 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was on his first deployment to a war zone and was involved in preparing Afghan forces for the time when U.S.-coalition troops leave at the end of this year. He was the deputy commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
Greene was the highest-ranked American officer killed in combat in the nation’s post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the highest-ranked officer killed in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War.
The attack at Marshal Fahim National Defense University underscored the tensions that persist as the U.S. combat role winds down in Afghanistan — and it wasn’t the only assault by an Afghan ally on coalition forces Tuesday. In eastern Paktia province, an Afghan police guard exchanged fire with NATO troops near the governor’s office, provincial police said. The guard was killed in the gunfight.
It wasn’t clear if the two incidents were linked, and police said they were investigating.
Early indications suggested the Afghan gunman who killed the American general was inside a building and fired indiscriminately from a window at the people gathered outside, the U.S. official said. There was no indication Greene was specifically targeted, said a U.S. official. The official was not authorized to speak publicly by name about the incident and provided the information only on condition of anonymity.
The wounded included a German brigadier general and two Afghan generals, officials said. One of the officials said that of the estimated 15 wounded, about half were Americans, several of them in serious condition.
Greene, 55, of Falls Church, Virginia, had returned to the Capital Region and his alma mater RPI over the years. In 2013, the former Army ROTC cadet was a guest of honor at the New York Capital District Reserve Officer Training Corps Joint Services Military Ball. In 2010, he was back at RPI for the dedication of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center at RPI, funded by the Army Research Laboratory.
Greene earned a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in management engineering from RPI. After graduating, he received his commission as an engineer and went on to rise to the rank of two-star general.
“Major General Greene was a leader, a thinker and a person of action. He exemplifies the type of outstanding individual that we challenge all Rensselaer students to aspire to become. As a decorated soldier and patriot, Major General Greene protected and defended our country and citizens with dignity, honor, and excellence. His service and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Shirley Ann Jackson, president of RPI said in a statement.
@RPINews tweeted: “We are so saddened by the tragic loss of U.S. Army Major General Harold Greene, a member of the #RPI Class of 1980.”
Greene graduated from Guilderland High School in 1977, according to Gazette archives.
The Washington Post reported he and his wife, Susan, have two children: a son, Matthew, who is in the Army, and a daughter, Amelia, who recently graduated from Binghamton University.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, offered his condolences.
“My deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers go out to Major General Greene’s wife, children, entire family, friends, fellow service members and colleagues,” Tonko said in a statement. “He was a decorated soldier, a patriot and servant to our nation.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also issued a statement.
“For generations, men and women of all ranks from upstate New York have defended our country, and we remember those who have made the greatest sacrifice for our freedom and way of life,” he said. “Major General Harold Greene is exemplary of this type of sacrifice and will always be remembered for his leadership, professionalism and patriotism.”
In January, the Department of Defense announced Greene, deputy for acquisition and systems management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army in Washington, D.C., was transferred to become deputy commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan. Prior to Washington, he worked in Natick, Massachusetts, assigned as the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command deputy commanding general and senior commander of the Soldiers System Center.
He received his commission as an engineer officer following his graduation from RPI. He held a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in materials science, as well as master’s degrees in engineering from both RPI and USC.
Despite the killing of an American general, U.S. officials still asserted confidence in their partnership with the Afghan military, which appears to be holding its own against the Taliban but will soon be operating independently once most U.S.-led coalition forces leave at the end of the year.
The Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, issued a written statement Tuesday evening expressing condolences to Greene’s family and the families of the others injured in the attack.
“These soldiers were professionals, committed to the mission,” Odierno said. “It is their service and sacrifice that define us as an army. Our priority right now is to take care of the families, ensuring they have all the resources they need during this critical time.
“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,” he added.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have taken more than 6,700 U.S. lives.
Insider attacks rose sharply in 2012, with more than 60 coalition troops — mostly Americans — killed in 40-plus attacks that threatened to shatter all trust between Afghan and allied forces. U.S. commanders imposed a series of precautionary tactics, and the number of such attacks declined sharply last year.
The White House said President Barack Obama was briefed on the shooting. Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel both spoke with Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. general in Kabul, who said a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation was underway and assured his bosses he still had confidence in the Afghan military.
There are only a few U.S. generals in Afghanistan. The highest ranking among them is Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top commander of U.S. and coalition forces.
The Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said the general and other officials were on a routine visit to the military university on a base west of Kabul.
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on both local and international troops. Azimi and U.S. officials said the shooter was killed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid praised in a statement the “Afghan soldier” who carried out the attack. He did not claim the Taliban carried out the attack, although in the past the Taliban have encouraged such actions.
Such assaults are sometimes claimed by the Taliban insurgency as proof of their infiltration. Others are attributed to personal disputes or resentment by Afghans who have soured on the continued international presence in their country more than a dozen years after the fall of the Taliban from power.
Mark Jacobson, a former NATO deputy civilian representative to Afghanistan and now a senior adviser at the private Truman National Security Project, said the threat of Afghan troops turning their guns of their American partners is a serious problem.
“Any sort of insider attack, no matter who the victim is, is going to have an impact on the morale of soldiers,” Jacobson said, adding that when a higher-ranking officer is killed, “you might see a wider impact on morale.”
Foreign aid workers, contractors, journalists and other civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly becoming targets of violence as the U.S.-led military coalition continues a withdrawal to be completed by the end of the year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned Tuesday’s attack as “cowardly.”
It is “an act by the enemies who don’t want to see Afghanistan have strong institutions,” Karzai said in a statement.
The site of the attack is part of a military compound known as Camp Qargha, sometimes called “Sandhurst in the Sand”— referring to the famed British military academy — because British forces oversaw building the officer school and its training program.
Soldiers were tense in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. One soldier in a NATO convoy leaving Camp Qargha fired an apparent warning shot in the vicinity of Associated Press journalists who were in a car, as well as pedestrians standing nearby. AP photographer Massoud Hossaini said he and an AP colleague were about 15 feet from the soldier at the time. Hossaini said he thought the soldier fired a pistol.
“The vehicle before the last one, someone shouted at me,” Hossaini said. “The last one, the soldier opened fire.”
No one was wounded.
Elsewhere Tuesday, a NATO helicopter strike targeting missile-launching Taliban militants killed four civilians in western Afghanistan, an Afghan official said. NATO said it was investigating.