A bloody weekend in Afghanistan hit home in the South Sound with the deaths of three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers at the hands of one of their Afghan allies at a remote outpost near the Pakistan border, the Defense Department announced today.
The deaths are the first publicly known incident involving Afghan service members turning their weapons on Lewis-McChord soldiers this year. So far, 51 Western service members have been killed in Afghanistan in 2012 by men wearing the uniforms of the Afghan army or Afghan police, according to an Associated Press tally.
Sunday’s victims were among four American soldiers killed at a joint American-Afghan checkpoint in the rural Mizan District of Zabul Province. Last weekend, six Western solders were killed in insider attacks, and U.S. forces have since suspended most joint patrols with Afghan security forces.
The three Lewis-McChord soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
* Sgt. Sapuro B. Nena, 25, of Honolulu, from the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment. Nena joined the Army in 2008 and deployed to Iraq in 2009-10. He arrived at Lewis-McChord in August 2010 and deployed to Afghanistan in December.
The Pacific News Center today said Nena’s wife left her home in Guam to meet his remains at Dover Air Force Base.
* Pfc. Genaro Bedoy, 20, of Amarillo, Texas, from the brigade’s 52nd Infantry Regiment. Bedoy’s unit has one company in the 3rd Brigade. He joined the Army in November 2010 and arrived at Lewis-McChord the following March.
“He died as a hero,” his cousin, David Gonzalez, told the newspaper. “We’re all going to miss him. We loved him.”
* And Pfc. Jon R. Townsend, 19, Claremore, Okla., from the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. Townsend joined the Army in May 2011 and arriveda t Lewis-McChord last October.
“Jon made up his mind that he was going to go to the service, so he spent all year getting ready,” Steve Johnson told The Tulsa World. “He really believed in the cause and wanted to be soldier.”
The fourth soldier was Spc. Joshua N. Nelson, 22, Greenville, N.C., from the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade out of Fort Gordon, Ga. He joined the Army last year and was serving on his first deployment.
The Defense Department said the soldiers were killed by enemy small arms fire during an attack. A NATO spokesman last weekend said the soldiers were killed in an insider attack, but it wasn’t clear at the time whether the shootings took place during an assault from outside the checkpoint.
Another report from Stars and Stripes said the shooting took place at an observation tower near Combat Outpost Mizan. The military newspaper said a team of American soldiers responded to a shooting in the tower and found four dead U.S. service members, one dead Afghan policeman and two wounded American soldiers.
Stars and Stripes said five other Afghan policemen fled the tower. U.S. sources in Zabul Province on Sunday could not tell Stars and Stripes whether the fleeing policemen had participated in the attack.
The News Tribune in March visited Mizan District during the week soldiers from Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade took control of the area.
At the time, about 40 Lewis-McChord soldiers were preparing for a summer assignment providing security for high-ranking U.S. security advisers who would work in close quarters with Afghan service members.
All of their missions were joint patrols with Afghan soldiers or police.
In the spring, U.S. soldiers generally spoke warmly about the Afghan army unit in Mizan. They had concerns about the Afghan local police, which the Americans considered less professional than the Afghan army.
American officers in the spring considered Mizan a ripe district to hand over to full Afghan control. Its local Afghan army unit had been successful carrying out its own independent missions, and its local governor earned plaudits from villagers.
U.S. soldiers mostly lived in Combat Outpost Mizan, which housed about 60 soldiers. The outpost was connected to an Afghan army compound on one side and Afghan police headquarters on the other.
At the start of 2012, another American soldier died in an insider attack in Zabul Province. Pfc. Dustin Napier of the Alaska-based 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment died Jan. 8 when an Afghan soldier shot him at Forward Operating Base Apache.
Lewis-McChord has a heavy footprint in Afghanistan this year. It had about 10,000 soldiers there at its peak this summer. The brigade has lost 14 soldiers in combat during this deployment.
Here is the story Peter Haley and I wrote from Mizan in April. We saw American and Afghan soldiers working in close quarters. We didn’t observe much distrust between the two camps, though we noted that newly arrived NCOs were taking steps to beef up their defenses.