An American major general was shot dead in one of the bloodiest insider attacks of the long Afghanistan war.
A gunman dressed as an Afghan soldier turned on allied troops, wounding about 15 including a German general and two Afghan generals.
The US Army identified the American officer as Major General Harold J Greene, a 34-year veteran.
An engineer by training, he was on his first deployment to a war zone and was involved in preparing Afghan forces for the time when US-coalition troops leave at the end of this year.
He was the deputy commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
Maj Gen 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 Defence University underscored the tensions that persist as the US combat role winds down in Afghanistan – and it was not the only assault by an Afghan ally on coalition forces yesterday.
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 was not 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, a US official said. There was no indication that Maj Gen Greene was specifically targeted.
The wounded included a German brigadier general and two Afghan generals, officials said. Of the estimated 15 wounded, about half were Americans, several of them in serious condition.
US 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 US-led coalition forces leave at the end of the year.
The Army’s chief of staff, General Ray Odierno expressed his condolences to Maj Gen Greene’s family and the families of the others injured in the attack.
“These soldiers were professionals, committed to the mission,” Gen 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 US 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.
US 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. He and defence secretary Chuck Hagel both spoke to General Joseph Dunford, the senior US general in Kabul.
Gen Dunford said a joint US-Afghan investigation was under way, and assured his bosses he still had confidence in the Afghan military.
The Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, said the general and other officials were on a routine visit to the military university on a base west of Kabul.
General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s defence ministry, said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on both local and international troops. He 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.
Foreign aid workers, contractors, journalists and other civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly becoming targets of violence as the US-led military coalition continues a withdrawal to be complete by the end of the year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as “cowardly” and said it was ” an act by the enemies who don’t want to see Afghanistan have strong institutions”.
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 programme.
Elsewhere yesterday, a NATO helicopter strike targeting missile-launching Taliban militants killed four civilians in western Afghanistan, an Afghan official said. NATO said it was investigating.