Updated: 08/06/2014 20:00 | By Agence France-Presse

Afghan army under pressure after killing of US general

The killing of a US general by an Afghan soldier in the latest "insider attack" will fuel mutual mistrust, but training the Afghan military to take on the Taliban is crucial to Washington's exit strategy.


Afghan army under pressure after killing of US general

An Afghan soldier searches passengers at a checkpoint near the Marshal Fahim National Defense University on the outskirts of Kabul, on August 6, 2014 - by Shah Marai

Major General Harold J. Greene was shot dead on Tuesday at a training centre in Kabul in an attack that left more than a dozen others wounded, including a senior German officer.

The 55-year-old's death threatens to embitter the final months of the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan and to undermine the urgent push to improve the Afghan army, which is taking over responsibility for fighting the resilient Taliban insurgency.

All remaining 44,000 NATO-led combat troops will leave the country by the end of this year, with about 10,000 US soldiers scheduled to stay into 2015 before a complete withdrawal by the end of 2016.

Leaving a proficient Afghan military behind is essential if gains made since the fall of the Islamist Taliban regime in 2001 are to be preserved against the threat of a return to the factional fighting of the 1990s civil war.

"When the US loses a general like this, they have to review their approach to their Afghan partners, but they also have to stay committed," retired Afghan general Hadi Khalid told AFP.

"There is no other way out, they can't just leave everything unfinished.

"But this will prompt foreign forces to be extra cautious. They will limit communications with Afghan personnel. They will focus on training the Afghan trainers, instead of foot soldiers directly.

- Huge US investment -

"And, for its part, the Afghan military needs to shake up, they have to prove they can fill the gap. Although they are doing great on the battlefield, they must improve their military intelligence to prevent this type of attacks."

The US alone has spent about $62 billion on the Afghan security forces since 2002, building a 350,000-strong military force from scratch, but there are serious questions over its long-term sustainability.

Despite the massive investment, the Afghan army suffers from high casualty rates, "insider attack" killings, mass desertions and equipment problems.

"Most corps have shortages of machine guns, fuel and water trucks," said a US government watchdog in a report released a week ago.

The Afghan soldier who killed Greene opened fire during a high-level visit by NATO officers to the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, a sprawling training complex on the outskirts of Kabul.

"This general was an expert in acquisitions -- this is someone who was going to help the Afghans sustain themselves over time," said Graeme Smith, Kabul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.

"He was part of the logistics effort, and the Afghan army is sorely lacking in the essential ability to maintain supply chains of diesel, bullets and spare parts.

"The impact of the attack is likely to be that remaining foreign troops will feel more and more exposed individually if they spend long periods of time surrounded by Afghan colleagues.

"Joint bases have often become segregated, with gates between the two armies padlocked for extra security."

The shooting was by far the highest-profile insider attack of the Afghan conflict, in which scores of US-led NATO troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers turning their guns on their allies.

Also known as "green on blue" attacks, the killings have also forced joint patrols to be overseen by armed guards labelled "guardian angels".

Insider attacks declined rapidly last year as NATO combat troops closed many outposts and reduced operations. Screening of Afghan army recruits was also tightened.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby described the attack as an isolated incident, and credited Afghan troops for their work in securing national elections.

"I've seen no indication there's a degradation of trust between coalition members and their Afghan counterparts," he said.

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