I-Team: 'Green on blue' attacks in Afghanistan

Chuck Goudie Image
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
I-Team: Green on blue attacks in Afghanistan
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General Harold Greene is the latest victim killed in Afghanistan by what the I-Team calls "green on blue" attacks.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For the first time since Vietnam, an American Army general was killed by the enemy on Tuesday. The latest victim in Afghanistan was killed by what the I-Team calls "green on blue" attacks.

"Green on blue" is the name given to Afghan security or soldiers who fire on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday night, the I-Team uncovers the tale of two soldiers who were caught in the crossfire: one of the early victims in 2010, a U.S. Marine from northwest Indiana, and the most recently, on Tuesday, a two-star Army general who is the highest ranking American killed in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Army Major General Harold Greene, two stars, 55 years old, was killed Tuesday at an Afghan officers training facility 11 miles outside Kabul. A gunman dressed as Afghan military, opened fire on Greene and those with him. At least 15 were left wounded, including a German general and two Afghan generals.

Greene recently became a two-star general, and was a logistics and engineering specialist on his first combat mission. He is the highest-ranked officer killed in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War. He leaves behind a family in Virginia.

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, a former military intelligence officer, says the enemy will take this as a trophy killing.

"Pretty shocking to lose a division commander," said Sen. Kirk. "A death like this is a big propaganda victory for the Taliban."

"Afghanistan is still a war zone so it's impossible to eliminate, completely eliminate, that threat, especially in a place like Afghanistan," said Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman.

The green on blue threat peaked in 2012 with 44 attacks by turncoat Afghans that left more than 60 coalition soldiers dead. That year, green on blue assaults accounted for 15 percent of all coalition deaths in Afghanistan.

Marine Josh Birchfield of Westville, Ind., was one of the early green on blue deaths.

The 24-year-old lance corporal was on patrol in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan when he was shot in the head. The Department of Defense said only that Birchfield was killed while supporting combat operations. In e-mails to the I-Team, Birchfield's fellow Marines said that he was killed by Afghan security guards paid by the Pentagon to protect a road paving project.

The I-Team also learned that the guard who shot and killed Birchfield had been using opium, the cash crop of that province.

Military experts say drug use is a common thread of the green on blue threat in Afghanistan. But the major problem is the Afghan culture itself.

"If you can't trust the soldiers that you're training then there is a significant issue to overcome," said David Benson, University of Chicago.

Benson is a fellow at the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. He is also a former Army intelligence officer in Iraq.

ABC7's Chuck Goudie asks: "Are we at the point where we can trust anybody over there?"

"Well, there's a somewhat ethnocentric saying that says 'you can't buy an Afghan but you can rent them.' That's way of saying it's difficult to trust people in such a fluid environment," said Benson.

Benson says Tuesday's attack will disrupt daily life for the American military in Afghanistan as the perceived threat level intensifies. The shooter in this incident was killed by so-called guardian angels who are trained to take down rogue Afghan shooters. That is one of the precautionary tactics imposed by U.S. commanders last year that has reduced the green on blue threat.

Biography of Gen. Harold Greene: http://usarmy.vo.llnwd.net/e2/c/downloads/271929.pdf

Original Goudie Daily Herald column on Josh Birchfield: http://prev.dailyherald.com/story/?id=362567