8 Americans Dead In Taliban Suicide Bombing

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Eight Americans were killed and a half dozen others were wounded in southeastern Afghanistan when a Taliban suicide bomber infiltrated their heavily fortified base Wednesday. It was the worst attack on Americans in Afghanistan since October. The U.S. government is not saying who the victims are, although it appears some, if not all of them, worked for the CIA.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On the final day of the year, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

A Taliban suicide bomber slipped into a heavily fortified American military base in Southeastern Afghanistan. He detonated his explosive vest and killed eight Americans while wounding several more. This attack, yesterday, was the deadliest against Americans in Afghanistan since October. And while the U.S. government is not saying exactly who the Americans were, it appears that at least some, if not all, of the dead worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.

We're going to learn what we can about this from NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who is covering the story in Kabul. Soraya, hi.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How did this attack happen?

NELSON: It's very strange, indeed. I mean, you have to imagine this is a very fortified base in a very dangerous area. But according to what the Taliban has posted on its Web site, a suicide bomber wearing an army uniform from the Afghan army - he managed to get inside this very heavily fortified base and detonate - and ended up killing eight American civilians here, killing one Afghan and wounding up to a half dozen more.

INSKEEP: This is got to be disturbing for American authorities because American bases have, by now, rather sophisticated and layered security. There's probably a lot of different checkpoints you have to get through on your way into a facility like that.

NELSON: Well, certainly the police chief for Khost province - this happened in Southeastern Khost province, which is one of the most dangerous here in Afghanistan. He was saying that he couldn't get inside the base without being patted down or being checked. So, it's really unclear how this person was able to get in with an explosives vest. And it was a very large explosion and apparently they heard it in Khost City, which is about 10-minute drive from the base. And at first, they were told it was rocket attack, and later the Americans admitted that, in fact, a suicide bomber had gotten inside.

INSKEEP: And we mentioned that it's believed that some, if not all, of the victims were CIA officers. Was it known that employees of the CIA were on this base?

NELSON: Well, there is always a supposition that there are some people doing intelligence work for the American government. But what's particularly disturbing for Afghans in the area is that this is a provincial reconstruction team that is based at this base. It's called Forward Operating Base Chapman. And it's right on the outskirts of the military - the major NATO military isolation there, Camp Salerno. And basically, this is a base that is doing outreach to Afghans. It's helping with projects in terms of, like, building roads, clinics, that sort of thing. It's helping the Afghan government, on a local level, improve itself and deliver services to the people.

So the fact that many of those killed would be CIA agents, this will be a real problem for Afghans here. You know, having said that, people here are seem to be confused and sort of stunned at the moment. There has been very little reaction actually or discussion, because again, no one has actually come out and said who has died here.

INSKEEP: Are these provincial reconstruction teams getting support where they exist, where they are trying, at least, have the mission of improving the economy and improving social life?

NELSON: Well, out of all the military units that are present in Afghanistan, the PRTs has definitely had the most interaction with the Afghans. And generally, it's a positive interaction. I mean, there are certainly frustrations that things don't move fast enough. There is also this sort of joint perception. I mean, on one hand, you have American military personnel who are reaching out and helping build things. You also have American civilians working for the governments who are on these PRTs. But on the other hand, not anyone can just walk up to the base. I mean, they are surrounded by sand bags and barbed wire, and you go through multiple layers of checks and security before you can actually get on - if you can even get on.

And so, it's always been this sort of dual perception, you know, on the part of Afghans, like, you know, the PRT - they are happy with the PRT, but they also feel like they are kept at arm's length.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul where she is covering news of a suicide bombing at an American military base in Southeastern Afghanistan that left eight Americans dead. It is believed that many of those, if not all of them, were CIA officers. Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.

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