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Bomber hits US base in Kabul

14 hurt in attack ahead of UK talks on Afghan policy

Soldiers secured the site of an attack yesterday after a suicide bomber detonated a van full of explosives near a US base. Soldiers secured the site of an attack yesterday after a suicide bomber detonated a van full of explosives near a US base. (Altaf Qadri/Associated Press)
By Rahim Faiez
Associated Press / January 27, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide car bomber struck a barrier outside a US base in the city yesterday, wounding six Afghans and eight American soldiers hours after gunmen killed four policemen in southern Afghanistan.

The car bombing was the latest attack to hit Kabul, occurring a little more than a week after a team of Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers staged an assault that paralyzed the city and left 12 people dead. The violence has underscored fears that militants would stage attacks ahead of a key international conference on Afghanistan to be held tomorrow in London.

The bomber detonated a minivan packed with explosives near Camp Phoenix, an American base inside Kabul, wounding at least six Afghan civilians, said Jamil Jumbish, the head of Afghanistan’s criminal investigation unit.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was targeting an international military convoy, according to a text message to the Associated Press from a phone number commonly used by the militant group.

NATO forces confirmed a car bomb struck outside the main gate of Camp Phoenix, saying it was aimed at a civilian convoy that was entering the controlled checkpoint.

Eight American service members suffered minor injuries, according to a statement.

Four Afghan policemen were killed overnight at a checkpoint near the Information and Cultural Affairs Ministry’s directorate in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province. The southern area is expected to be a major focus of fighting with the influx of 37,000 additional US and NATO forces.

Taliban militants frequently target Afghan security forces and officials to undermine the US-backed government, but authorities said it was not yet clear who killed the policemen.

Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the officers apparently had visitors and an investigation was underway into whether the attack was political or personal.

In eastern Kunar Province, a NATO air strike killed several suspected insurgents who were maneuvering into fighting position in an area previously used to stage attacks on international forces, the coalition said in a statement.

A spokeswoman, Major Virginia McCabe, said five to 10 militants were killed.

President Hamid Karzai said yesterday that the London conference offers a major opportunity for his government to present its plans for reconciliation in an effort to drain the insurgency of support.

Karzai spoke yesterday in Turkey after a meeting of nations that seek to help Afghanistan emerge from instability with aid, trade, training, and political support. Delegates included Foreign Secretary David Miliband of Britain; Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China; and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said yesterday that her country plans to increase its troop contingent in Afghanistan by up to 850 and focus more strongly on training local security forces.

Germany has nearly 4,300 soldiers in northern Afghanistan. They serve under a parliamentary mandate that sets the maximum number at 4,500; Merkel did not specify what the new limit might be.

In Kabul, meanwhile, security officials gave the first detailed account of how a small group of militants infiltrated the capital in the Jan. 18 attack on government buildings and a major shopping center, which left five civilians and Afghan security forces dead, along with the seven assailants.

Intelligence officials played a videotape for reporters from a man who is accused of sheltering the seven attackers. The alleged ringleader, who was arrested a day after the attack, said operatives from the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani militant network ordered him to the capital from his home in eastern Nangarhar Province. “I received a phone call telling me to come to Kabul,’’ said Kamaluddin, who like many Afghans goes by one name.

He said a man named Bashir explained that he would bring seven suicide bombers and Kamaluddin was to keep them in a house he rented in the city and to help organize the attack, including painting a vehicle loaded with explosives to look like an ambulance.

Kamaluddin supplied the bombers with suicide vests and ammunition, said Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service. He said they were still trying to identify the lead bombers in the attack.