Deadly attack in Afghanistan was the work of Taliban


KABUL — A suicide bomber who killed seven CIA officers and contractors and wounded six others at an isolated CIA base in eastern Afghanistan
Wednesday was a Taliban infiltrator dressed in an Afghan army uniform,
according to U.S. officials and a Taliban claim of responsibility.

It was the deadliest attack on the intelligence agency since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in April 1983. An eighth American was also killed.

The victims were working out Wednesday evening when
the bomber stepped into the outpost’s gym and triggered his explosive
vest, the Taliban and U.S. military officials said Thursday.

The CIA confirmed the deaths of the seven, whom one
U.S. official described as a “mix” of CIA employees and contractors.
CIA director Leon Panetta said in a statement that the families of the dead had been notified, but that the victims’ names and what they were doing in Afghanistan wouldn’t be released “due to the sensitivity of their mission.”

A U.S. intelligence official, who requested
anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity, said that one of the
dead was the female chief of the CIA’s Forward Operating Base Chapman near the Pakistani border and key militant infiltration routes from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

“Those who fell yesterday were far from home and
close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect
our country from terrorism,” Panetta said. “We owe them our deepest
gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never
cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives — a
safer America.”

How the Taliban penetrated the base is under
investigation. The Taliban said the bomber was a member of the Afghan
army, but U.S. officials said they didn’t know if that was true. Afghan
uniforms are frequently stolen, but CIA officials said that simply
wearing an Afghan army uniform wouldn’t be enough to gain access to the

Officials were particularly surprised that
Wednesday’s attack took place at FOB Chapman, which a U.S. military
official, who requested anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity,
told McClatchy Newspapers was “more secure than most.” Whether the CIA workers were targeted also was unknown.

In addition to the CIA base, FOB Chapman is the
headquarters for a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team that
works with local Afghan officials on development projects. It recently
was visited by a woodwind quartet from the 82nd Airborne Division, which gave a holiday concert, according to the official U.S. Army Bands Web site.

The attack, and a separate bombing in southern Afghanistan
Wednesday that killed five Canadians, one of them a journalist,
underscored the Taliban’s growing range and aggressiveness at a time of
year when hostile action generally slows.

Violence has been rising here in what some commanders think is the Taliban’s response to President Barack Obama’s recent decision to deploy 30,000-35,000 additional troops by next summer and set a July 2011
date to begin their withdrawal. The pace of Taliban attacks is higher
than it was last winter, and some U.S. officers fear that the
announcement of a withdrawal date may have given the Taliban confidence
that they can wait out the surge.

The suicide bomber’s possible status as a member of the Afghan army also raised concerns. A key U.S. strategy in Afghanistan
is increasing the size of the Afghan army — a goal that could make it
easier for Taliban sympathizers to join an expanding force as it seeks

The attack also is likely to exacerbate tensions
between U.S. and Afghan troops, who live adjacent to one another and
often conduct joint missions. Privately, soldiers already talk about
their distrust of the Afghans.

Last week, for example, soldiers from the Georgia National Guard
leaving their base in Nangahar province joked that the Afghan guarding
the gate was “probably calling up his friends and telling them where we
are headed.”

The Taliban on Thursday also took responsibility for
another incident this week in which an Afghan soldier opened fire on
foreign troops. An American was killed, and two Italians were wounded
in the incident, which took place on Tuesday in Badghis province.

The CIA has been active for years in eastern Afghanistan, where it’s conducted covert operations since late 2001 in an effort to kill or capture al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, who’s thought to have escaped from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

The attack on the Canadians came in Kandahar
province, which long has been the heart of Taliban activity and is one
of the country’s most violent regions. One company of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Lewis, Wash., has lost a quarter of its forces since it was deployed there a few months ago.

U.S. plans call for the bulk of the new troops headed to Afghanistan to be deployed in Kandahar, which has been the Canadians’ responsibility since 2005. Canada’s 2,800-troop force, however, has been too small to exert control outside Kandahar city, Afghanistan’s largest.

NATO officials said the five died when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb near Kandahar city.

Four of the dead were Canadian soldiers whose names haven’t been released. The fifth was Michelle Lang, 34, a reporter for the Calgary Herald. Lang, who normally covers health issues for the paper, was on her first trip to Afghanistan.

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