WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) - An Associated Press investigation reveals a Michigan soldier and a Tennessee soldier killed in 2011 died not at the hands of Taliban insurgents, but by U.S.- trained Afghan security forces. A Michigan National Guardsman provided 24 Hour News 8 with perspective on the challenges of training those security forces.
The military originally reported that Capt. Drew Russell of Scotts was killed by Taliban insurgents in a rocket-propelled grenade attack. But the AP reports Russell and Capt. Joshua Lawrence of Nashville, Tenn. were in a tent when the two Afghan security forces fired the grenade toward the post and fired bullets into the tent.
The AP report shows on the night of Oct. 8, 2011, Russell was shot three times in the back. Lawrence was shot once in the head.
The shooters were members of the Afghan security force who were meant to be US allies. They were allowed to enter the base virtually unchecked, according to the report, despite carrying a rocket-propelled grenade and assault rifle. That was seen as suspicious by other soldiers in accounts after the attack.
Days after the attack, the military said Russell and Lawrence were killed by Taliban insurgents -- despite firsthand reports on the ground that US soldiers knew the shooters.
Lt. Col. Shawn Harris of the Michigan National Guard provided some perspective. He was a team chief in Afghanistan in 2007 responsible for training Afghan National Army and police security forces.
"As you know, it's not easy doing things in Afghanistan," Harris said.
Harris said checks and screenings are in place, but nothing in Afghanistan is 100 percent predictable.
"We have screening processes, and since I was there since 2007 to today, those screening processes are even better," said Harris. "From looking at their fingers to looking at their eyes and putting them into a database to ensure that somebody that we have in the force with us, that we're trying to train, isn't a terrorist."
But Harris said it's never easy when the cultural beliefs of many being trained may be in direct conflict with the overall mission.
"It is our job to try to bring them along because the goal is to get them to be able to protect their own people and protect their own country, but at the same time, myself and other commanders have to be able to protect our own soldiers," Harris explained.
According to the AP report, 17 coalition troops were killed by insider attacks in 2011. That number is up to 63 so far in 2012.
"At the end of the day, we're there to do a job and the guys are doing a great job, but also at the end of the day we want to be able to bring our soldiers home," Harris said.
Capt. Russell was laid to rest in Vicksburg in fall 2011. In the report, his father said knowing his son died in an ambush and not an actual battle makes it difficult.
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