Taliban responsible for deaths of 8 'CIA agents' in Afghanistan
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a base in eastern Afghanistan that killed eight American citizens believed to be working for the CIA.
By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 6:00AM GMT 31 Dec 2009
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that a Taliban bomber wearing a military uniform and a suicide vest entered a base in Khost and blew himself up inside the gym.
One official described Forward Operating Base Chapman, near the Pakistan border, as a former military compound that was ânot a regular baseâ any more. Another source said the base was used by âother agenciesâ, suggesting that intelligence personnel were involved. Breaching a secure base that carries out potentially sensitive operations made it a particularly bold attack.
A US Congressional official said that CIA employees are believed to be among the dead.
The CIA has not yet commented on or confirmed the deaths.
In a separate incident, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist died when
their vehicle was blown up in the south-eastern province of Kandahar. The journalist has been identified as Michelle Lang, 34, from the Calgary Herald, who had just arrived on her first assignment in the country.
The Khost bombing was one of the highest American civilian death tolls in a single incident during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
The last known CIA fatality in Afghanistan was Johnny âMikeâ Spann, a paramilitary office killed during a jail riot at Qala-i-Jangi in 2001.
Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, is one of the centres of the Taliban insurgency. Most foreigners working there are soldiers or contractors working in reconstruction and intelligence operations. Afghan civilian casualties in the area have been increasing, raising tensions between the Afghan government and Western forces.
The attack on the Americans came as the international forces in Afghanistan - numbering 113,000 and set to grow to 150,000 next year - were embroiled in controversy over the deaths of Afghan civilians in an operation on Saturday.
President Hamid Karzai has accused international forces of shooting dead ten unarmed civilians, including eight teenagers. Natoâs International Security Assistance Force has disputed the findings of an Afghan government investigation, saying the deaths occurred in a battle in which nine insurgents were killed.
CIA Officers, Including Base Chief, Killed in Afghan Attack
Taliban Claims Responsibility for Suicide Bombing at Forward Operating Base
"Yesterday's tragedy reminds us that the men and women of the CIA put their lives at risk every day to protect this nation," Mr. Panetta said.
President Barack Obama also wrote to CIA employees Thursday to praise the service of officers who were killed.
"These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life," he wrote. Since the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks, he said, "because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our Allies and partners have been more secure."
Several former intelligence officials described the attack in Afghanistan as "devastating" to the agency. "There was some tremendous talent lost," a former intelligence official said, adding that a number of the officers killed had been counterterrorism operatives since prior to the 9/11 attacks.
The Taliban says it's responsible for two deadly bombings Wednesday, one inside a CIA base and another that killed Canadian troops and a journalist embedded with them. Video courtesy of Reuters.
The number of casualties in Wednesday's attack was second to those the agency sustained in the Beirut embassy bombing in 1983, which killed eight CIA officers. That attack eradicated the agency's entire Middle East group and was one of the key events that drove the creation of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center a few years later.
"It will mark this generation the same way Beirut marked mine," said Ron Marks, a 16-year CIA veteran, who left the agency in 1999. With CIA officers deployed to the far reaches of Afghanistan and Pakistan for extended periods, he said, the agency has been lucky to have avoided such attacks for as long as it did. "This is what you're going to have to expect," he said.
On Capitol Hill, the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees issued statements of condolence.
Wednesday's casualties will be added to a wall in the CIA's lobby, which currently features 90 stars representing agency employees killed in the line of duty. The most recent one was added in June to memorialized an officer killed last year, but the officer's name and duties weren't made public.
According to a military official who works on Afghan issues, Chapman has grown substantially in recent months and is a base for both military and intelligence operations. Because of its size, the officer said, the suicide bomber likely penetrated multiple layers of security before detonating the explosives.
Much about the attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman remained uncertain. Officials variously said the blast had occurred as the bomber exited a car, or after the bomber had reached the base's gym or its cafeteria.
Eight Americans were killed in an explosion at a U.S. compound in Afghanistan, officials say. Reporting from Kabul, WSJ's Anand Gopal joins the Hub to discuss.
Forward operating bases typically house hundreds of soldiers, and Afghan forces and private contractors also often live on such bases. FOB Chapman is just outside the provincial capital of Khost and is close to the Pakistani border.
The attack appeared to be the worst against foreigners since October, when 10 Americans -- seven troops and three civilians -- were killed in a helicopter crash following a firefight with insurgents.
It would also mark the first time a suicide bomber managed to strike inside a U.S. facility in the country, a sign of the insurgents' growing sophistication. Insurgents have been staging increasingly complicated assaults in recent months, including one where a militant infiltrated the country's police force and killed five British soldiers.
Also Wednesday, NATO said four Canadian troops and one journalist from Canada were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb on a patrol a few miles outside the southern city of Kandahar. The journalist, Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald, was on assignment covering Canadian military operations, said Major Steven Cole, a spokesman with the NATO-led forces.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for the roadside bomb that killed the Canadians. It was the bloodiest single incident suffered by Canada's military in 2009.
View Full Image
A demonstrator in Kabul on Wednesday rallied against a recent U.S.-led attack in Afghanistan that protestors and the Afghan government say killed children. NATO disputed the claim.
Wednesday's blast came amid heightened tensions between NATO and Afghan officials over the U.S.-led raid in the northeastern province of Kunar over the weekend. An investigation ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai found that 10 civilians were killed, including eight schoolchildren.
"A unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan," Mr. Karzai said in a written statement, and "took 10 people from three homes -- eight of them school students in grades six, nine and 10, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family -- and shot them dead."
A NATO statement questioned that assertion. "A joint Coalition and Afghan Security force entered the village of Ghazi Khan," the group said, and "came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals. Several assault rifles, ammunition and ammonium nitrate used in bomb-making were discovered."
There was "no direct evidence" to substantiate the Afghan claims that unarmed civilians were killed, NATO added. The Afghan Defense Ministry denied its forces had a role in Sunday's operation.
The Afghan allegations could deepen tensions between Kabul and Washington at a time when the insurgency's reach is growing. Mr. Karzai has frequently criticized Western forces for civilian casualties, which he says gives the insurgency a propaganda boost and turns people against the government. U.S. officials say that such criticism undermines Western efforts to win popular support in the country.
On Thursday, Afghan officials again accused the foreign forces of killing civilians. "Seven civilians were killed in an air raid," said provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi, "and there were demonstrations in Lashkar Gah," the provincial capital. A spokesman for the NATO-led forces said they were investigating the incident.
There are no leaders to lead us to honour, and yet without leaders we sally,
Each man reporting for duty alone, out of sight, out of reach, of his fellow.
There are no bugles to call the battalions, and yet without bugles we rally,
From the ends of the earth to the ends of the earth â¦