A McAlester man serving as a civilian employee with the military in Afghanistan was killed Thursday in an attack that also killed a soldier from Illinois and injured several other Americans.
Michael G. Sauro, 40, of McAlester died in Kabul from wounds he received when he encountered enemy forces, according to a news release from the Department of Defense.
Sauro who worked for the Defense Ammunition Center, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, was assigned to the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Defense Ammunition Center, plant spokesman Kevin Jackson told the Tulsa World on Thursday night.
Sauro was working with a team of others at an Afghan military supply point near Camp Morehead, a training site for Afghan commandos outside of Kabul, when the group was attacked, Jackson said.
The gunman, which the Afghan Defense Ministry said was wearing an Afghan army uniform, was killed after international troops responded with gunfire, the Washington Post reported.
A U.S. defense official, speaking to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because the situation was still developing, said the Americans were at the depot as part of the NATO training mission for Afghan security forces.
Sauro and Army Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, Illinois, were killed in the attack. Two other civilian employees, Richard “Rick” Alford and Rodney Henderson, were injured and will be returning to the United States, according to a news release from the ammunition plant.
The Washington Post reported that another American was injured in the attack, but that person’s name wasn’t released.
Both Sauro and Riney were deployed in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom's Sentinel, a mission to train and advise Afghan security forces, Jackson said.
Though Jackson didn’t personally know Sauro, he said he was well-liked and that when other plant employees heard of his death today, many became emotional and some had to leave the facility to go home.
“People said he always had a kind word and he was always willing to lend a helping hand. He’s somebody they’re going to miss terribly,” Jackson said.
Sauro, who began working for the Defense Ammunition Center in December 1999, was just over a month into his third deployment when he was killed, Jackson said.
He’d been deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from February to March 2009 and as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from October 2012 to January 2013, Jackson said.
Sauro arrived in Afghanistan on Sept. 17, Jackson said.
While deployed, Defense Ammunition Center employees provide training and come up with solutions in explosives safety, hazardous materials transportation, ammunition surveillance and logistics engineering and support, according to a plant news release.
When asked if civilian employees expect to come into contact with hostile forces, Jackson said employees know it’s possible.
“Our employees understand the risk of the work, particularly in a deployed environment, but it’s a risk that they’re willing to take in service to the nation,” Jackson said.
Sauro some of his career in McAlester, and he’d also worked at satellite training locations at Fort Riley in Kansas and Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, Jackson said
Sauro wasn’t married and didn’t have any children. He is survived by his sister, brother, parents, paternal grandmother and maternal grandparents, according to a news release.
The U.S. official told the Washington Post it was not clear whether the assailant was in fact a member of the Afghan National Army. But the shooting appeared to be what is known as an "insider" or green-on-blue attack, where Afghan allies turn on their U.S. and foreign mentors.
At least 150 coalition troops have been killed in such attacks since 2008, according to data compiled by the Long War Journal, which is published by the D.C.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The assaults — which have been attributed both to Taliban infiltration and cultural differences between Afghan and foreign troops — surged in number from 2011 to 2013. But the attacks became more infrequent as the bulk of U.S. and NATO troops withdrew from the country. U.S. forces have suffered only two combat casualties in Afghanistan this year, both of which occurred in the volatile Helmand province in the country's south.
At Camp Morehead, elite Afghan commando units learn ambush tactics, how to call in airstrikes, and train for short missions. But the commandos, which number about 11,000, are increasingly stretched thin.
As Afghan forces struggle to beat back Taliban militants in places like Lashkar Gah and Kunduz, which was briefly taken by insurgents again this month, casualties and desertions have depleted their ranks.
More than 2,350 U.S. troops have died supporting military operations in Afghanistan since 2001.