Army General Martin Dempsey’s C-17’s fuselage got pockmarked by shrapnel from some overnight shelling while it was parked outside on the tarmac at Afghanistan’s Bagram air base north of Kabul. A couple of airmen were slightly wounded in the 2 a.m. attack on the plane, which had flown the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to Afghanistan on Sunday.
“The chairman was never in any danger from the attack,” Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service reported from Bagram.
While C-17s are huge, Bagram is bigger. There is no evidence that those lobbing the mortar rounds or rockets that landed near the plane had any idea it was there – or that it was the chairman’s chariot. In any event, damage to the plane and one of its four engines was sufficient to force Dempsey to leave Afghanistan on another aircraft.
The chairman was never in any danger from the attack is not the kind of thing one likes to wake up to read. But such lucky strikes have happened before:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to a southern Afghan base in March started with a bang when an Afghan car-jacked a pickup truck and crashed into a ditch alongside a runway, just as Panetta’s plane landed. The truck burst into flames. The car-jacker – an interpreter for coalition forces at the base – died of his burns a day later.
In October 2003, insurgents fired 28 rockets into the Baghdad hotel where then-deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying, killing Army Lieut. Colonel Charles Buehring and wounding 17 others.
These events are a lot like the recent rash of green-on-blue attacks, where Afghans have killed their U.S. and coalition allies. They’re militarily marginal, but politically significant. Like the tree in the forest that no one’s around to hear fall, rounds regularly hit Bagram, but no one off-post hears them until something like this happens.