CIA Suffers Worst Attack In Afghan War

The suicide bomb attack Wednesday on the CIA forward base killed at least eight Americans, including the base's chief. It was the worst the agency has suffered in the Afghanistan war.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

At CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia flags are flying at half staff today. Seven CIA officers were killed Wednesday in a suicide bombing in South Eastern Afghanistan, six others were wounded. It marks the deadliest single day for the agency in 26 years.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly joins me now. And Mary Louise, what we know about this attack?

MARY LOUISE KELLY: We know the Taliban has now claimed responsibility. And we know these people were working at what's known as a forward operating base down in a remote area in Khost province, Southeastern Afghanistan.

What appears to have happened is that a man wearing the uniform of the Afghan National Army got inside, detonated a suicide vest and made this explosion. Now there are reports that he was invited inside, that he was perhaps being recruited as a potential source. If true, that would help explain how he was able to get past what presumably would have had to have been very tight security.

SIEGEL: Yeah. And there was some confusion earlier today about the death toll. To be clear here, it now appears that seven Americans were killed, all of them worked for the CIA?

KELLY: That's correct.

SIEGEL: And what kind of work were they doing in Khost province?

KELLY: Well, the agency is not confirming any specifics, nor we should note are they confirming any of the names of those were killed. Many of them, if not all of them, would have been working undercover. But it's safe to assume that they were doing what CIA types do in remote areas of the world, which is help identify enemy targets, also help recruit locals who can serve as CIA agents, perhaps what was they were trying to do here.

You know, we've heard a lot about the military surge these past few weeks, about Marines and soldiers pouring into Afghanistan. In parallel, the CIA is doing an intelligence surge. So there are a lot more CIA officers pouring into the country as well.

SIEGEL: Now this is the deadliest day for the agency in 26 years. That takes us back to 1983, to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

KELLY: That's right. And there were eight CIA officers among the 17 Americans who died in that Beirut attack. So, another very black day then in CIA history, nothing on that order of magnitude in the many years since. And it's interesting, you know, you walk into CIA headquarters today, walk into the original headquarters building and on the big wall on the left, as you enter, is a wall of stars. Each star representing one of the CIA officers who gave their life in service - was killed in action.

Now on that wall there are 90 stars. Remarkable really when you think about how dangerous that line of work is and how long...

SIEGEL: It's a very small number for all these years.

KELLY: Exactly. They've been doing it for six decades now. So, that helps, I think, give some perspective on how devastating it is to have lost seven in one day.

SIEGEL: I assume the mood at Langley is pretty grim.

KELLY: I think that's fair to say, always tough to gauge the mood of a building. But I was told by one former official that people were crying yesterday inside the CIA's counterterrorism center. That official described the mood there as stunned. Another current official who I spoke to said people there are determined, meaning I think determined to avenge these deaths.

SIEGEL: Any word when the remains of the seven who are killed to be brought home?

KELLY: Still working on those arrangements, I'm told. But they are apparently going to fly the bodies to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. So that would be a similar process as with U.S. military personnel and their families. And CIA leaders will be there to greet them when they come back.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, thank you very much.

KELLY: You're welcome, Robert.

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