An American Soldier Has Died in ‘Post-War’ Afghanistan
An Afghan ally fired the killing shot
On April 8, a member of the Afghan National Army killed 22-year-old American paratrooper and medic Spc. John Dawson. It happened in Jalalabad at the provincial governor’s compound.
Dawson, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, is the first American soldier killed in Afghanistan since NATO-led combat operations officially ended last year and Afghan forces ostensibly took the lead.
Dawson — and several other Americans wounded in the shooting — were part of a security detail for a meeting between American and Afghan officials. Coalition forces acknowledged the death, tweeting that a member of the NATO mission died in an “incident.”
“He wanted to join the Army and serve and be useful,” James Baxendale, Dawson’s cousin, told the Boston Herald. “He wanted to be a medic.”
The U.S. has officially ended its combat mission in Afghanistan, but still keeps around 10,000 troops in the country. But the war is still very much ongoing.
On Jan. 29, an Afghan soldier killed three American contractors at Kabul International Airport. On Feb. 26, a suicide bomber killed a Turkish soldier with the NATO Resolute Support advisory mission.
It’s unclear what motivated Dawson’s killing, but Afghan soldiers firing on friendly troops is all too common. Coalition forces even have a name for it. The incidents are “green-on-blues” — as opposed to “blue-on-blue” for unintentional friendly fire incidents.
At times during the Afghan war, green-on-blues killed almost as many coalition troops as improvised explosive devices. The peak occurred in 2012 when 38 green-on-blues incidents claimed the lives of 53 U.S. troops.
These insider assaults happen for a variety of reasons, and because the attackers often die during or shortly after the incidents, it’s hard to determine a motive.
In some cases, the culprits are Taliban agents. Militant groups often have spies or defectors among Afghanistan’s security forces, and Taliban infiltration is worse among the country’s police.
But that’s not the only reason. Many times, the attacks are a result of cultural misunderstandings.
In 2012, members of a U.S. Army Special Forces team in Afghanistan said American troops often offended their Afghan counterparts — sometimes without even knowing it.
U.S. advisers sometimes used mock insults on Afghan trainees or playfully punched them on the shoulders. To Americans, it’s all in good fun. But such acts can offend honor-conscious Afghans who see them as insults.
The number of attacks went down significantly in 2013, when 10 insider attacks resulted in 16 deaths. Better training and a decreased Western troop presence played a role. But on Aug. 5, 2014, an Afghan soldier killed U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene.
Greene is the highest ranking American service member killed overseas since the Vietnam War. That attack wounded sixteen others — including German army Brig. Gen. Michael Bartscher, several American and British troops, two Afghan generals and another Afghan officer.
Coalition troops aren’t the only targets. Afghans troops also attack fellow Afghans.
These incidents have similarly been a mix of Taliban infiltration and killings over honor. Afghan officers regularly skim off their subordinates’ paychecks … or mistreat them. Corruption and theft has caused tensions within the Afghan army to bubble over into violence.
Some studies suggest that the number of Afghan victims of these attacks are roughly equal to or even surpass assaults on NATO troops. But that’s cold comfort for coalition troops still operating in the country.