A weekend of violence and betrayal in Afghanistan hit home in the South Sound with Wednesday’s announcement by the Pentagon that three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers died at the hands of an Afghan ally at a remote outpost near the Pakistan border.
Sunday’s deaths were the first reported fatal casualties involving Afghan service members turning their weapons on Lewis-McChord soldiers this year. As of Wednesday, 51 Western service members had been reported killed in Afghanistan in 2012 by men wearing the uniforms of the Afghan army or Afghan police, according to an Associated Press tally.
The three victims from the base south of Tacoma were among four American soldiers killed at a joint American-Afghan checkpoint in the rural Mizan District of Zabul Province. A total of six Western solders were killed in insider attacks over the weekend, and U.S. forces have since suspended most joint patrols with Afghan security forces.
The three Lewis-McChord soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. They are:
• Sgt. Sapuro B. Nena, 25, of Honolulu, from the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment. Nena joined the Army in 2008 and deployed to Iraq in 2009-10. He arrived at Lewis-McChord in August 2010 and deployed to Afghanistan in December.
The Pacific News Center on Wednesday said Nena’s wife left her home in Guam to meet his remains at Dover Air Force Base. Guam’s governor issued a news release praising Nena’s service.
• Pfc. Genaro Bedoy, 20, of Amarillo, Texas, from the 52nd Infantry Regiment. Bedoy’s regiment has one company attached to 3rd Brigade and other small units stationed at different bases.
He joined the Army in November 2010 and arrived at Lewis-McChord the following March.
The Amarillo Globe-News reported that Bedoy is survived by his wife and infant child.
“He died as a hero,” his cousin, David Gonzalez, told the newspaper. “We’re all going to miss him. We loved him.”
• Pfc. Jon R. Townsend, 19, of Claremore, Okla., from the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. Townsend joined the Army in May 2011 and arrived at Lewis-McChord last October. He is survived by his wife, Brittany Taylor Carden.
His high school principal said Townsend was determined to join the Army.
“Jon made up his mind that he was going to go to the service, so he spent all year getting ready,” Steve Johnson told The Tulsa World. “He really believed in the cause and wanted to be a soldier.”
• The fourth soldier was Spc. Joshua N. Nelson, 22, Greenville, N.C., from the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade out of Fort Gordon, Ga.
The Defense Department said the soldiers were killed by enemy small arms fire during an attack. A NATO spokesman last weekend said the soldiers were killed in an insider attack, but the circumstances were not clear.
Zabul’s deputy police chief Ghulam Jilani Farahi told reporters the attacker was an Afghan police officer who was shot to death by American soldiers after he opened fire.
Another report from Stars and Stripes said the shooting took place at an observation tower near Combat Outpost Mizan. The military newspaper said a team of American soldiers responded to a shooting in the tower and found four dead U.S. service members, one dead Afghan policeman and two wounded American soldiers.
Stars and Stripes said five other Afghan policemen fled the tower. U.S. sources in Zabul Province on Sunday could not tell Stars and Stripes whether the fleeing policemen had participated in the attack.
Insider attacks strike at the heart of NATO’s strategy to improve Afghan security forces before withdrawing most Western troops by 2014. Pentagon studies provided to congressional lawmakers show that the majority of the attacks result from personal and cultural disputes. Others rely on Taliban infiltrators among Afghan security forces.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Wednesday defended the Pentagon’s decision to halt most joint operations, saying NATO and Afghan leaders need time to assess what’s happening on the ground. He linked the recent attacks to unrest in many Muslim nations following the release of a short movie by a California filmmaker mocking the Prophet Mohammed.
“They’re tactical changes in response to a changing threat,” Dempsey said, but added that “they’re in no way an indication that we’ve changed our campaign objectives.”