KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban claimed responsibility Thursday for infiltrating a CIA base with a suicide bomber who got into a gym and set off an explosion that killed eight Americans and an Afghan. CIA employees were believed to be among the victims.
Wednesday’s assault on U.S. Forward Operating Base Chapman at the edge of Khost city in eastern Afghanistan was a blow to the CIA, which had previously lost only four operatives in this country since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
It came on a bloody day for NATO forces. A roadside bombing, also claimed by the Taliban, killed four Canadian troops and a Canadian journalist in southern Afghanistan. Elsewhere, police said militants beheaded six Afghans on Thursday for co-operating with government authorities.
Also Thursday, the United Nations said a preliminary investigation showed that a raid last weekend by foreign troops in a tense eastern Afghan province killed eight students. The attack sparked protests by Afghans against foreign troops.
It was unclear how the suicide bomber was able to circumvent security at the U.S. base. Khost is the capital of Khost province, which borders Pakistan and is a Taliban stronghold.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that an Afghan National Army officer wearing a suicide vest entered the base and blew himself up inside the gym. A U.S. official who was briefed on Wednesday’s blast also said it took place in the gym.
There was no independent confirmation that the bomber in the attack on the U.S. base was a member of the Afghan military. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, said no Afghan National Army soldiers are at the base.
But an Afghan official in Khost said the U.S. has hired about 200 Afghans to help with security at the base. They are usually deployed on the outer ring of its walls, although some work inside, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“It’s not the first time that Afghan forces have conducted such an attack to kill Americans or foreigners,” the Taliban statement said, citing the alleged killing of an American soldier and the wounding of two Italians this week in Badghis province. NATO has provided no details of that incident, but Afghan Gen. Jalander Shah Bahnam said an Afghan soldier opened fire on a base in the province’s Bala Murghab district.
An online message posted by the Afghan Taliban said 20 CIA staff were killed and 25 other people were wounded, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based terrorist tracking organization. The Taliban routinely exaggerate claims of enemy casualties.
The U.S. official said the explosion killed eight American civilians and one Afghan, the worst loss of life for the U.S. in the country since October. Six Americans were wounded, the official said.
Harold E. Brown Jr., a State Department employee of Fairfax, Va., died in the attack, his father, Harold E. Brown Sr., told The Associated Press on Thursday. The younger Brown, 37, who grew up in Bolton, Mass., served in the Army and remained a major in the reserves. He is survived by a wife and three children ages 12, 10 and 2.
A U.S. congressional official said CIA employees were also believed to be among the victims. The CIA has not yet commented on or confirmed the deaths.
All the U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
A spokesman in Kabul for the international coalition force said no U.S. or NATO troops were killed. The attack was the deadliest for Americans since eight soldiers were killed in an insurgent attack on a base in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 3.
Only four known CIA operatives have been killed in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. CIA officer Micheal “Mike” Spann was killed in a prison uprising in November 2001. An agency officer died in a training exercise in 2003, and two contractors operating out of a CIA base in Shkin district of Paktika province were killed the same year.
Forward Operating Base Chapman used to be a military base, but was later turned into a CIA base, according to a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. Some military men and women work there on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, one of several joint civilian-military units that secure and develop areas of Afghanistan. A NATO spokesman said “other personnel” operate from Chapman as well, but he said he could not elaborate.
Chapman is not the only U.S. base in Khost city. Also there is a major U.S. military base known as Camp Salerno, which includes a large Soviet-built airfield.
Camp Salerno and its outlying fire bases have been the focus of repeated militant suicide, artillery and sniper attacks over the past several years. One of the most brazen of the war occurred in August 2008 when a group of about 100 Taliban fighters broke through the perimeter of the base, which houses about 2,000 allied troops. After a two-hour firefight, the guerrillas were forced to retreat by attacking helicopter gunships.
In Wednesday’s other attack, NATO said the four Canadian troops and the reporter embedded in their unit died when their armoured vehicle hit a bomb while on an afternoon patrol south of Kandahar city.
Michelle Lang, a 34-year-old health reporter with the Calgary Herald, was the first Canadian journalist to die in Afghanistan. She arrived in the country just two weeks ago. Lang “was one of those journalists who always wanted to get to the bottom of every story so this was an important trip for her,” said a Calgary Herald colleague, Colette Derworiz.
The military has not disclosed the names of the Canadian troops because relatives have not all been notified.
Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, commander of coalition forces in Kandahar, said the soldiers were conducting a community security patrol.
According to figures compiled by The Associated Press, 32 Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year; in all, 138 have died in the war.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement of condolence to Americans and Canadians, saying “your children sacrificed their lives for the people of Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism. The Afghans will not forget your sacrifice.”
Karzai has been critical of NATO forces, though, for attacks that have killed civilians. Claims of civilians killed by foreign forces are a highly emotional issue among Afghans and feed strong resentment of international soldiers.
Top NATO commander Stanley McChrystal has made avoiding such deaths a critical part of his strategy.
The attack last weekend in Kunar province has been a bone of contention between the Afghan government, which said 10 civilians were killed, and NATO, which said there was no evidence to substantiate that claim.
On Thursday, U.N. special representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement that although insurgents were in the area at the time, eight of the 10 killed in the nighttime attack were students in local schools.
Separately, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province in the south said an airstrike by international forces killed and wounded civilians. Dawud Ahmadi said he did not know how many were killed Wednesday in Babajid district. He said the attack took place after an international forces patrol came under fire.
NATO said it was aware of the reports and was investigating.
Elsewhere, police said militants beheaded six Afghans for co-operating with government authorities. Juma Gul Hamit, police chief of Uruzgan province in south-central Afghanistan, said the men were killed near the provincial capital of Tarin Kot. He said a seventh victim was being treated for serious neck wounds.