KABUL, Afghanistan - Seconds before he was shot dead in an alleged insider attack from an Afghan soldier, Maj. Gen. Harold Greene was laughing and joking at a briefing of top Western officials visiting Afghanistan's military academy, an eyewitness told NBC News on Wednesday.
Described as a "true hero" by his family, The two-star U.S. Army general was the most senior casualty so far suffered by the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan.
The delegation of high-ranking personnel from the U.S., U.K. and Germany arrived at the complex in a convoy of 35 vehicles at 9:35 a.m. local time Tuesday (12:32 a.m. ET). All Afghan personnel had been told to stay in their rooms and hand in their weapons, but 27-year-old military policeman Mohammad Rafiqullah is alleged to have hid in a bathroom with his NATO-supplied M16 rifle, according to an official among the group who witnessed the shooting.
Ten minutes into the delegation's third briefing, in an open area near the military policing unit, Greene stepped forward and told a joke to the group. Seconds later Rafiqullah allegedly opened fire — empting one magazine and changing to a second in a three-minute barrage. The chaotic scene was exacerbated because it was not immediately clear where the shooter was hiding, according to the eyewitness.
The fire was only halted when one of the bodyguards spotted the gunman and shot him twice in the face, killing him instantly, according to the eyewitness and a senior military official.
Once the bullets had stopped it became clear Greene had been hit. "We heard a shout, 'Gen. Greene is down, bring the first aid kit,' and we saw he was in the pool of blood," the eyewitness said. "He had three shots in the back and one shot in the back of his head. He had already died."
A senior military official had earlier told NBC News that Greene had been hit once in the leg and four times in the back.
The delegation's security detail called an airlift, and Greene was transported to another part of the complex. According to the eyewitness, more than 20 other personnel were injured including Americans and officers from Britain and Germany. All of the injured were helicoptered to Bagram Airfield except for two Afghan army colonels who were transported to the Afghan Army Hospital in Kabul.
According to the senior military source, Rafiqullah joined the army more than two years ago and his superiors had never seen evidence of suspicious behavior.
Greene was at the complex, officially named the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, to discuss a $70 million renovation project. The facility is home to the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, which is modeled on the Military Academy in West Point, New York, and also contains the Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy, which is also known as "Sandhurst in the sand" after the U.K. facility. Greene's death was the first time an officer with a major general rank has been killed overseas since the Vietnam war.
Alexander Smith reported from London.