Blast Rocks Base During Cheney Visit to Afghanistan

A suicide bomber attacked the entrance to the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan Tuesday during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, killing an undetermined number of people and wounding others. Cheney was safely inside the base at the time of the blast and was unharmed. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said Cheney was the target.

After the blast, Cheney traveled to Kabul for a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before leaving the country.

There were conflicting reports on the death toll. Provincial Gov. Abdul Jabar Taqwa said 20 people were killed, while NATO said initial reports indicated three fatalities, including a U.S. soldier, a South Korean coalition soldier and a U.S. government contractor whose nationality wasn't immediately known. NATO said 27 people also were wounded. It was unclear why there was such a large discrepancy in the reports. Associated Press reporters at the scene said they had seen the bodies of at least 12 people carried in black body bags.

The vice president's trip to Afghanistan follows a visit to neighboring Pakistan. Neither stop was on Cheney's official public schedule. The visits reflect growing concern in Washington about the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaida, whose presence has increased in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan.

There is no doubt that the vice president was sent to deliver a stern message to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf: If Pakistan does not step up its efforts against terrorism, it risks losing U.S. military aid now that Democrats are in control of Congress. The House has already passed a measure that makes continuing U.S. military aid to Pakistan contingent on the issue.

Still, the Bush administration must be careful in how far it pushes Musharraf's government: Anti-U.S. sentiment runs high in Pakistan, a country which is at once a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and a suspected terrorist safe haven.

Cheney's visit comes as spring approaches. Last year, the season proved particularly deadly for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Administration officials tell NPR that if something dramatic does not change, by the end of this year, the Taliban could effectively retake control of the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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