(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon has confirmed the identity of the second American high-ranking Army officer who was killed in a shooting inside Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry as Maj. Robert Marchanti of Baltimore, Maryland.
Afghan police believe the shooting, which occurred in one of the most secure government complexes in the country and also took the life of Lt. Col. John Loftis of Paducah, Kentucky, was carried out by a 25-year-old Afghan police officer. The incident, in addition to widespread protests, was believed to be part of a violent reaction to the U.S. military’s admission it had burned some copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.
Protests simmered down Monday, but the threat to Americans remains high, U.S. officials said. Monday morning, two suicide bombers drove a car into the gates of a U.S.-led base in eastern Afghanistan, triggering an explosion that killed nine Afghans, according to local officials. In all, about 40 people have been killed since the Koran-burning admission.
Marchanti, who was a 20-year physical education teacher and served with the Maryland National Guard, was identified earlier Monday as one of the fallen in the shooting by family and friends.
“He kept calling me his little girl, and I kept getting so angry about it as I got older. I was like, I’m not a little girl anymore. But now I wish he could come back so I could tell him that I’m still his little girl,” his only daughter, Leah Marchanti, told ABC News’ Baltimore affiliate ABC2News.
The main suspect in the case, identified by local officials as Abdul Saboor Salangi, is still on the loose.
Two days before the shooting that claimed Marchanti and Loftis’ lives, two other American soldiers were killed by a member of the Afghan Army at a base in eastern Afghanistan.
In response to the shooting in the Interior Ministry, all foreign advisors were withdrawn from all ministries, signaling a crisis that one senior NATO official called a “game changer,” a moment in the war that will cause the U.S. to question the transfer of security responsibility through close mentoring and training to Afghan soldiers and police.
The shootings revealed that plans to embed smaller U.S. units inside larger Afghan units may expose American service members to more cases of fratricide than they would normally be in conventional deployments. They also revealed that despite 10 years of training and a $21 billion spent just in the last two years, the Afghan National Security forces – who will be responsible for securing the entire country within 16 months — are still riddled with untrustworthy soldiers and police officers.
Despite all those concerns, U.S. and NATO officials have tried to calm fears by pointing out Afghan police have died defending U.S. bases from angry protestors — a sign, they said, they are improving and are trustworthy. The officials have also given public interviews declaring their commitment to transition and to continuing multi-billion dollar efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.
But while those statements may help calm fears in Washington, they do not solve a fundamental problem in Afghanistan: severely decreased trust on both the U.S. and Afghan sides.
Afghan officials are still upset over the admitted Koran burning and said they want assurances another one won’t happen again in the future. American officials are likewise furious over “green-on-blue” attacks from Afghan security officials and want assurances another one won’t happen in the future.
U.S. and Afghan officials admit that much of the progress they’ve made in the war is at risk until both sides reassure the other.
When asked whether NATO forces in Afghanistan could guarantee another Koran burning would not happen, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson said, “Nobody can guarantee that things are never going to happen. Nobody can guarantee that never again a shooting will happen between people who are partnered with each other.”
Asked whether the Interior Ministry could guarantee whether another “green-on-blue” incident would not happen, Interior Minister Sediq Seddiqi said, “The only guarantee is time.”
Trying to explain why a 25-year-old Afghan driver turned his gun on American colleagues, he added, “People go crazy sometimes when they see something really bad or strange, especially the Afghans, who have gone through many, many bad years of bloodshed,” he said, referring to the Koran burning.
But both Seddiqi and Jacobson echoed each other in another way, when they tried to reassure the other side that everyone was working as hard as possible to avoid making the same mistakes.
“We should take more measures to build more trust and confidence. This is in our hands,” Seddiqi said, “and of course we will take more measures to make sure these incidents do not happen in the future.”
Jacobson’s version: “We will do everything in our ability as it was promised by the commander [to] make actually sure that across the nations of this coalition, everybody is aware not only of the sensitivity of what happened in this incident, but also about the consequences and is aware how important it is to respect the habits and the traditions of the country that we’re serving in.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, CNN
Aaron Smith, CNN Newswire