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Riverton soldier killed in Afghanistan

Riverton soldier killed in Afghanistan

Aug 10, 2012 - From staff and wire reports

A Riverton resident who was a state-champion wrestler for Riverton High School was killed Thursday on military duty in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that Army Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 45, was one of three American service members shot and killed by a gunman in the Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.

Griffin grew up in Riverton and was a 1985 graduate of Riverton High School. He was the brother of Shawn Griffin, of Riverton.

The incident was the latest of an intensifying spate of so-called green-on-blue attacks. The gunman was wearing an Afghan army uniform and was presumed to be an ally of the Americans who had trained him.

It was the third such attack this week on Americans by Afghan security forces trusted to assist U.S. troops in the region.

An Afghan official in Helmand province, where the shooting took place, said Griffin, Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38, of Conyers, Ga., and Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, of West Point, N.Y., were members of the U.S. special operations forces, and that they were deliberately lured to their deaths by a police commander who invited them to dinner Thursday night at his checkpost.

The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the gunman had defected to the insurgency.

News reports said a fourth person was wounded in the attack, although accounts differed as to whether the fourth person was a service member or a civilian.

Griffin and Kennedy were assigned to Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

Griffin joined the Army in 1988, Fort Carson officials said. He had deployed to Iraq three times since 2003 and also served in the Balkans and Kuwait. His deployment to Afghanistan had started March 13.

Griffin listed Riverton as his permanent place of residence, although news reports Friday termed him a Laramie resident. Third-party accounts said that was because he had enlisted while a student at the University of Wyoming but identified himself as a Riverton resident.

Griffin was the most senior enlisted soldier for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. He had earned the Bronze Star for valor in combat.

While at Riverton High School, Griffin was a standout wrestler for the Riverton Wolverines. He won the 1985 Wyoming Class 4-A state championship at 132 pounds, compiling a record of 26-2 for the season. He pinned a Natrona County High School wrestler in the state finals at the Casper Events Center. Later that year, he was chosen to represent Wyoming on a cultural exchange wrestling team that traveled to West Germany.

The apparently premeditated nature of the attack added an alarming new dimension to the phenomenon of Afghan police and soldiers turning their weapons on Western mentors. The NATO force has disclosed 28 such deaths so far this year, and the latest shooting, in Helmand's Sangin district, was the second of its kind this week.

According to NATO, there have been 24 such attacks on foreign troops since January in which 28 people have been killed. Last year, there were 21 attacks in which 35 people were killed.

The attacks pose a quandary for Western military officials, because the training of Afghan police and soldiers is a crucial part of plans to wind down the NATO force's combat role and hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces. Such mentoring requires Western troops to live and work in close quarters with Afghan counterparts.

An Afghan official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject said it was not clear how many assailants had taken part in the attack, because the attackers had fled. Also present at the dinner were recruits to the Afghan Local Police, a village militia being trained by American special forces, the official said.

Western military officials say that a minority of such attacks are carried out by Taliban infiltrators, blaming more of the shootings on disputes and personal antagonism.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, identified the police commander who took part in the attack as Asadullah, and described him as a "hero" who had come over to the Taliban side, bringing his weapon with him.

The latest green-on-blue attack came against a backdrop of growing violence in southern Afghanistan. In Helmand's Musa Qala district, a civilian minivan hit a roadside bomb, killing six people, including women and children, and injuring five. All the victims were from the same family, the Helmand governor's office said.

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