The infiltrator managed to kill an Afghan general who was arguably the most powerful figure in the country’s south, and two Americans were wounded.
The insider attack was perpetrated by a bodyguard for the governor of Kandahar province who had secretly trained at a Taliban camp, according to a Taliban-produced video celebrating the incident.
The six U.S. soldiers with 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, received awards at a June 11 ceremony on Fort Carson, Colorado, for helping to put down the attacker, according to an Army news release.
1st Lt. Cooper L. Lemons, Sgt. 1st Class John Ballenger, Staff Sgt. Timme L. Jones and Spc. Benaiah O. Wiedenhoft were awarded the Army Commendation Medal with combat device and Spcs. Jacob S. Shontz and Joseph Smith were awarded the Army Commendation Medal with valor device.
The soldiers were assigned to Alpha “Arrowhead” Company. Part of their role in Afghanistan was to provide “guardian angel” soldiers to watch over coalition advisers training Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
During the insider attack, the Arrowhead soldiers proved crucial in securing the scene, according to Col. Dave Zinn, then commander of 2nd IBCT and deputy commander for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South at the time of the incident.
“On October 18th, Arrowhead was tasked with protecting senior U.S. officials who were meeting with high-level Afghan officials at the provincial governor’s compound in the center of Kandahar City to discuss upcoming national elections,” Zinn said in the release.
The soldiers were assigned to pull security during the hours-long meeting in Kandahar City.
"I remember myself and my platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Ballenger, pulling security on the tower across from the (helicopter landing zone) and seeing everyone coming out of the building,” Smith, a combat medic, said in the release. “Then all of a sudden I heard a shot pop and all we could see were people trying to take cover.”
The Taliban infiltrator began firing, with Afghan government figures appearing to be the main targets.
“These soldiers, acting as guardian angels, remained standing and returned fire to eliminate the threat,” Zinn said. “They secured the chaotic scene and rendered medical aid to the wounded, organized the evacuation of senior U.S. and Afghan officials, called in a MedEvac helicopter, and prepared their convoy for movement out of the city.”
“Instincts kind of just took over, it felt surreal,” said Smith, who helped provide medical aid to the wounded. “I took a deep breath and started treating and prioritizing those around me.”
All casualties were evacuated to the NATO Role III medical facility for further medical care.
The attack claimed the lives of the powerful Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq, as well as the head of the province’s National Directorate of Security.
The top U.S. commander in-country, Gen. Austin Miller, was present at the meeting, but escaped unharmed.
“Today I lost a great friend, Lt. Gen. Raziq," Miller said after the attack. “We had served together for many years. Afghanistan lost a patriot, my condolences to the people of Afghanistan. The good he did for Afghanistan and the Afghan people cannot be undone.”
Two other Americans and a foreign contractor were wounded.
“My deepest admiration will always be with the Arrowhead soldiers who selflessly and courageously demonstrated their character, resiliency and their expertise under fire at the governor’s palace on that day,” Zinn said.
In the wake of the incident, Col. Knut Peters, a NATO mission spokesman, told Army Times that the incident took place at Kandahar Palace and was an “Afghan-on-Afghan incident.”
The loss of Raziq was considered significant, as the Afghan general played a key role in holding together the many disparate political groups and security forces in Kandahar — an area with a historically strong Taliban presence.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.