A devastating Taliban attack that came close to hitting the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan inflicted even more damage on the American military brass than they were willing to admit.
On Sunday, the Pentagon revealed that one of its generals had been shot and wounded in the assault.
U.S. officials confirmed that U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley was one of two Americans wounded in the attack in Kandahar Thursday, when a bodyguard for the provincial governor opened fire on senior Afghan officials leaving a security meeting in a government compound. The gunman killed two high-ranking Afghan officials, including Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq, widely seen as the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan.
Though the U.S. mission was quick to clarify that Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, escaped unharmed, they were less forthright about the two American casualties in Thursday’s insider attack.
The Washington Post reported that Smiley, commander of the NATO-led Resolute Support training and advisory mission in southern Afghanistan, was recovering after suffering at least one gunshot wound in the attack.
The U.S. mission has been cagey in acknowledging how close the attacker got to American generals, initially characterizing the incident as an “Afghan-on-Afghan” attack, and denying that Miller — the top NATO commander in the country — had been a target, despite the Taliban’s explicit claims to the contrary. Miller later told an Afghan TV channel: “It was a very close confined space. But I don’t assess that I was the target.”
U.S. military officials also hadn’t previously revealed that Smiley had been wounded, saying only that an American serviceman was among the injured. The confirmation only came after U.S. outlets reported that that serviceman was in fact a general.
The wounding of an American general, who are rarely in positions where they are vulnerable to attack, has underlined the parlous state of U.S.-led efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, 17 years after the conflict began. The Kandahar attack was such a close shave for Miller that he was forced to draw his gun, according to a CNN report, although he didn’t fire.
On Twitter, Col. Dave Butler, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, took issue with reports that the military had tried to cover up the fact a general had been wounded, saying it was a privacy matter. “No one was trying to ‘cover it up’,” he wrote. “We don’t usually release the names of the wounded to respect their privacy.”
At a press conference Monday, officials from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security said the gunman had been hired as a bodyguard for Kandahar’s provincial governor using a false identity. At least 15 people had been arrested in connection with the attack, officials said.
The brazen attack forced the postponement of voting in parliamentary elections, scheduled for Saturday, by a week in Kandahar province. About 5 million people voted across the country over the weekend, in a chaotic ballot marred by violence and technical glitches that meant voting had to be extended by a day into Sunday to allow people to cast their ballots.
At least 44 people were killed in violence at voting stations, including a suicide bombing attack at a polling station in Kabul, after both the Taliban and Islamic State group vowed to disrupt the first parliamentary vote in the country in eight years.
Cover image: U.S troops keep watch during an official visit in Farah province, Afghanistan May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/James Mackenzie