Two years after one of the deadliest insider attacks in the history of the war in Afghanistan, a new generation of U.S. Air Force advisers gathered here to remember nine men and women who were killed by a rogue Afghan air force officer in Kabul.
In April 2011, when Col. Ahmed Gul fatally shot the eight airmen and one civilian adviser, such “green-on-blue,” or insider, attacks were rare. Two years later, Western officials acknowledge the enormous impact of such incidents; 62 NATO service members were killed by Afghan soldiers and police officers last year.
But the nine Americans killed in 2011 — known within Air Force circles as the “NATC-A Nine” (the acronym stands for NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan) — were buried long before such attacks were considered part of a trend, or a strategy articulated by the Taliban.
On Saturday, about 50 Air Force advisers marched nine kilometers, or about 51 / 2 miles, around Kandahar Airfield, stopping after each kilometer to read a biography of one of the deceased. When the march finished, they lit nine candles and offered a final salute.
Some of the service members here knew the victims personally. For others, the connection was professional: Two years after the attack, they were advising the same Afghan air force, taking on the same risks with the same goals in mind.
Hours before the memorial, the Taliban announced the launch of its “spring offensive” in a statement that included the promise of more insider attacks.
“Successful insider attacks, to eliminate foreign invaders, will be carried out by infiltrating Mujahideen inside enemy bases in a systematic and coordinated manner,” the statement said.
Since the 2011 incident, NATO-led forces have enforced a host of regulations to minimize the risk of insider attacks, but the nature of the advising mission remains the same. Every day in Kandahar, U.S. service members spend hours on the Afghan base, attempting to help build the country’s nascent air force.
“They were eight airmen and a retired soldier,” Air Force Col. James A. Brandenburg said during the memorial ceremony. “Like you and me, they were serving to build a better future for the men and women of Afghanistan.”