Suicide bombing on Afghan military base kills 10
KABUL — A suicide bomber wearing an Afghan Army uniform blew himself up yesterday inside a military base in eastern Afghanistan, killing five NATO soldiers, four Afghan soldiers, and an interpreter, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the bomber was a sleeper agent who joined the army a month ago. US Master Sergeant Jason Haag, a NATO spokesman, said the attack took place during a meeting on the Afghan Army base, which also houses NATO trainers.
The bomber detonated his explosives at about 7:30 a.m., as many workers began their morning shifts at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Laghman Province.
Four Afghan soldiers and three interpreters were wounded.
Attacks by insurgents who donned uniforms to infiltrate bases have appeared to increase over the past 12 months as NATO and Afghan forces work more closely together. The international coalition is stepping up the training of Afghan soldiers and policemen so they can take the lead in securing their nation by the end of 2014.
The Afghans added more than 70,000 police and soldiers last year, and there are plans to increase the force to 305,000 by the end of the year.
Yesterday’s attack was the deadliest sleeper agent assault since November, when an Afghan border police officer shot six US soldiers to death at a base in the eastern province of Faryab.
Afghan security forces are supposed to be vetted by past employers or even village elders, but in a country where unemployment is about 35 percent, the literacy rate is about 28 percent, and computerized record-keeping is a novelty, background checks are often rudimentary.
The explosion took place as NATO and Afghan troops conducted what military officials call a “key leader engagement’’ meeting, according to a NATO spokesman.
After the explosion, Blackhawk helicopters swooped down to carry the dead and wounded to hospitals.
The bodies of four Afghan soldiers were too badly damaged to determine their military rank, said Baz Mohammad Sherzad, the health director in nearby Nangarhar Province.
On Friday, a suicide bomber dressed as a police officer blew himself up inside the Kandahar police headquarters complex, killing the top law enforcement officer in the restive southern province.
The funeral of Police Chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent law enforcement officials, was attended yesterday by at least 1,500 people, including Kandahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa, Afghan Interior Minister General Bismillah Khan Mohammad, Afghan chief justice Abdul Salam Azimi, and the Afghan president’s half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai.
Earlier this month, a man wearing an Afghan border police uniform shot to death two American military personnel tasked with training the country’s security forces in Faryab Province.
In February, an Afghan soldier shot and killed three German soldiers and wounded six others in the northern province of Baghlan.
Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani of Pakistan said in Kabul yesterday that Pakistan stands strongly behind efforts to make peace with the Taliban.
He also said that while the United States will play a role in any reconciliation, Kabul should set the parameters for any talks to end the war.
At a news conference, Gilani and Afghan president Hamid Karzai said a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission comprising top-ranking officials is being set up to accelerate and promote a peace process.
Any solution to the war requires the support of Pakistan, and in particular elements of its security forces, which are believed to have links to insurgents in Afghanistan.
Gilani, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, spy chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and other officials flew to Kabul at a time when US relations with both nations are deeply strained.
Having the trio of Pakistan’s power elite at the Afghan presidential palace at the same time underscored the importance of the talks.