No one knows for sure who was responsible for the slaying outside of Kabul of Maj Gen. Harold Greene—the first American general killed in a war zone since Vietnam. But U.S. intelligence agencies have recently detected a spike in threats from the Taliban and other associated jihadist organizations in Afghanistan, particularly against Kabul. And one American congressman has already laid the assassination at the feet of the Taliban.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said simply that the attacker was a man wearing an Afghan army uniform. A Taliban spokesman on Tuesday praised the attack but did not claim credit for it.
But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon sees a Taliban hand behind the slaying. “Because the Taliban has been unable to succeed militarily against Afghan and coalition forces, they are continuing to conduct cowardly, headline-grabbing insider attacks,” he said in a statement.
The Taliban have spent the last seven years trying to embed moles inside Afghanistan’s army and security services. At a press briefing Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby was careful not to assign blame for the attack, describing the assailant only as an Afghan soldier. But the U.S. military has spoken publicly for years about its efforts to root out the Taliban infiltrators inside the military President Obama hopes will keep Afghanistan from becoming an al Qaeda haven.
One congressional staff member told The Daily Beast, “Our view is: This is Taliban until proven otherwise.”
Even if the Taliban had nothing to do with Tuesday’s attack—and they might not have—the threat from the group and other Islamic extremists in Afghanistan is rising, current and former U.S. intelligence and military officials tell The Daily Beast. The new danger in Afghanistan reflects an optimism from the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network that Obama will remove U.S. forces from the country by the end of his presidency, leaving them an opportunity to re-establish havens within Afghanistan.
“What we are seeing broadly, and this has nothing to do with today’s attack, is that as Americans withdraw from various parts of the country, in the east and the south in particular, Afghan units are also withdrawing or being pushed back by Taliban advances,” said Ret. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2005. “We’ve seen this in Helmand province, where the Marines fought successfully for a number of years, and we are seeing some reports of this in the eastern part of Afghanistan, as well.”
One senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, concurred. “Look at the areas we pulled out early in and how badly those are going,” this official said. “This will continue to happen. This will be like dominoes.”
This official said U.S. intelligence agencies have recorded “an uptick” in attacks and attempted attacks in Afghanistan in the last two months. “Some of these are Haqqani Network attacks, some are al Qaeda, and some are Taliban.” This official stressed that all of these groups synchronize their activities through the leadership council or Shura Council in Quetta, Afghanistan. “We know they coordinate and we never admit it publicly,” this official said.
U.S. officials described the attack on Tuesday at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, on the outskirts of Kabul, as an Afghan soldier who fired at coalition forces. Fifteen were reportedly wounded in the incident, including a German brigadier general.
The incident highlights the precarious state of Afghanistan as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from the country. Outgoing Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn warned last month against underestimating insurgents like the Taliban and its allies.
"We look at some of these people as if they were in shower shoes and bathrobes, but twice they were defeating the most sophisticated military in the world, in 2006 in Iraq and 2009 in Afghanistan,” he said last month at the annual Aspen Security Forum. “And they’re watching everything that’s going on in Iraq as we transition out of Afghanistan.”
The warning about Iraq is particularly prescient. U.S. troops had largely defeated al Qaeda’s franchise in that country by the end of 2009. But this year the group, which broke off from al Qaeda and renamed itself the Islamic State, has amassed a mini-state composed of territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq. This spring, the Islamic State’s fighters and other Sunni insurgents took over Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.
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