Afghan soldier guns down US general in Kabul

Kabul - A US general has been shot dead in Afghanistan, becoming the highest-ranking American officer to be killed since 9/11, in an insider attack that left more than a dozen wounded including a senior German officer.

The shooting, which killed Major General Harold Greene, rocked the US-led project to train up the Afghan army as Nato combat forces withdraw after 13 years of fighting the Taliban.

The assault is the first time a US general has been killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War, and will do little to alleviate deep mistrust between international troops and their Afghan allies.

Greene, who was the deputy for acquisitions at the US Army headquarters in Washington, was also the highest-ranking US officer slain since the September 11 2001 attacks, when Lieutenant General Timothy Joseph Maude was killed by a hijacked airliner that crashed into the Pentagon.

The Afghan soldier was himself killed after he opened fire during a high-level visit by Nato officers on Tuesday to the Marshal Fahim National Defence University, a sprawling training complex on the outskirts of the capital.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Major General Harold Greene's family, and the families of our soldiers who were injured today in the tragic events", said US army Chief General Ray Odierno.

A US official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that around 15 people were injured, including eight Americans.

The nationalities of the other victims were unclear, but the German army said that one of its generals was wounded, while officials in Kabul said at least three Afghan officers were hurt.

Fierce mistrust among troops

Afghan officials had earlier described the attacker as a man wearing Afghan uniform, suggesting he may not have been a soldier. But US officials later confirmed the assailant was a soldier.

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 bred fierce mistrust among soldiers and forced joint patrols to be overseen by armed guards.

The Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, and Western officials say that most such attacks stem from personal grudges and cultural misunderstandings rather than insurgent plots.

"Insider attacks" declined rapidly last year as Nato combat troops closed many bases and reduced operations before their complete withdrawal by the end of this year. Screening of Afghan army recruits was also tightened.

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

"It's impossible to eliminate, completely eliminate that threat, I think, particularly in a place like Afghanistan, but you can work hard to mitigate it", he said.

'Cowardly' attack

President Hamid Karzai condemned Tuesday's attack as a "cowardly" strike against Afghan and Nato officers.

"It is the work of those enemies who do not want to see Afghanistan have its own strong institutions", he said.

General Mohammed Afzal Aman, the chief of staff for operations at the Afghan Ministry of Defence, told AFP that three Afghan army officers were injured.

"ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) have quarantined the site, allowing nobody, including Afghan forces, to approach", he said.

An official statement from Berlin said the injured German brigadier general was not in a life-threatening condition.