BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) - A suicide bomber attacked the
entrance to the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday
during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, killing up to 23
people and wounding 20.
Cheney was unhurt in the attack, which was claimed by the
Taliban and was the closest that militants have come to a top U.S.
official visiting Afghanistan. At least one U.S. soldier, an
American contractor and a South Korean solder were among the dead,
Cheney said the attackers were trying "to find ways to question
the authority of the central government." A Taliban spokesman said
Cheney was the target.
About two hours after the blast, Cheney left on a military
flight for Kabul to meet with President Hamid Karzai and other
officials, then left Afghanistan.
The vice president had spent the night at the sprawling Bagram
Air Base, ate breakfast with the troops, and met with Maj. Gen.
David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
He was preparing to leave for a meeting with Karzai when the
suicide bomber struck about 10 a.m., sending up a plume of smoke
visible by reporters accompanying him. U.S. military officials
declared a "red alert" at the base.
"I heard a loud boom," Cheney told reporters. "The Secret
Service came in and told me there had been an attack on the main
He said he was moved "for a brief period of time" to a bomb
shelter on the base near his quarters. "As the situation settled
down and they had a better sense of what was going on, I went back
to my room," Cheney added.
Asked if the Taliban were trying to send a message with the
attack, Cheney said: "I think they clearly try to find ways to
question the authority of the central government."
"Striking at Bagram with a suicide bomber, I suppose, is one
way to do that," he said. "But it shouldn't affect our behavior
Maj. William Mitchell said it did not appear the explosion was
intended as a threat to Cheney. "He wasn't near the site of the
explosion," Mitchell said. "He was safely within the base at the
time of the explosion."
There were conflicting reports on the death toll. Karzai's
office said 23 people were killed, including 20 Afghan workers at
the base. Another 20 people were injured, it said.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said initial
reports were that three people were killed, including a U.S.
soldier, an American contractor and a South Korean soldier. U.S.
officials indicated they planned to update that death toll.
Associated Press reporters at the scene saw 12 bodies being
carried in black body bags and wooden coffins from the base
entrance into a market area where hundreds of Afghans had gathered
Friends and relatives cried and moaned as they took the bodies
away from the base. Two men came to the base entrance crying and
wringing their hands, one of them screaming, "My brother!"
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said Cheney
was the target of the attack, which Ahmadi said was carried out by
an Afghan called Mullah Abdul Rahim, of Logar province.
"We knew that Dick Cheney would be staying inside the base,"
Ahmadi told AP by telephone from an undisclosed location. "The
attacker was trying to reach Cheney."
Mitchell noted that Cheney's overnight stay occurred only after
a meeting with Karzai on Monday was canceled because of bad
"I think it's a far-fetched allegation," he said, referring to
the Taliban claim. "The vice president wasn't even supposed to be
here overnight, so this would have been a surprise to everybody."
White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said she could
not confirm that the Taliban was behind the attack.
Perino said President Bush got an update Tuesday morning about
the attack, but had not yet spoken to Cheney about it. Bush was not
awakened to be told about the attack, she said.
"Of course, we're glad that he's OK," Perino said of Cheney.
The explosion happened near the first of at least three gated
checkpoints vehicles must pass through before gaining access to
The base houses 5,100 U.S. troops and 4,000 other coalition
forces and contractors. High security areas within the base are
blocked by their own checkpoints. It was unclear how an attacker
could expect to penetrate the base, locate Cheney and get close to
him without detection.
"We maintain a high-level of security here at all times. Our
security measures were in place and the killer never had access to
the base," said Lt. Col. James E. Bonner, the base operations
commander. "When he realized he would not be able to get onto the
base, he attacked the local population."
Khan Shirin, a private security guard, sobbed near the body of
his relative, Farvez, a truck driver and the representative of
transport association that hauls goods for the base. Shirin said
many of the people killed were truck drivers waiting to get inside.
Ajmall, a shopkeeper, said the "huge" blast shook a small
market where he has a stall about 500 yards from the Bagram base.
Ajmall, who goes by one name, said those wounded were taken inside
the U.S. base for treatment.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said one of its troops stationed
in Bagram, Sgt. Yoon Jang-ho, 27, was killed in the explosion.
South Korea has about 200 engineers and medics in Bagram.
Cheney later flew by plane to Kabul, 30 miles south of Bagram,
to meet Karzai after a planned meeting on Monday was canceled
because of bad weather that prevented the vice president making the
trip to the capital.
Cheney was met by guards with guns drawn on the tarmac and was
rushed by ground convoy to the presidential palace, where he and
Karzai walked a long receiving line and past oriental rugs laid out
on the wet, stone pavement.
Cheney and Karzai met privately for an hour and spoke about the
"problems coming from Pakistan," said an Afghan government
official, a reference to cross-border infiltration by militants who
launch attacks in Afghanistan.
"We understand now that the U.S. government realizes that in
order to stop terrorism in Afghanistan and to stop terrorist
attacks in Afghanistan, there must be a clear fight against
terrorism in Pakistan," said the official, who spoke on condition
of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Five years after their fundamentalist regime was toppled,
Taliban-led militants have stepped up their attacks and Afghan,
U.S. and NATO forces are bracing for a fresh wave of violence in
Such an attack, the closest militants have got to a top U.S.
official visiting Afghanistan, will likely have propaganda value
for the resurgent Taliban movement.
In January 2006, a militant blew himself up in Uruzgan province
during a supposedly secret visit by the U.S. ambassador, killing 10
There were 139 suicide bombings last year, a fivefold increase
over 2005, and Rodriguez has said he expects the number of suicide
bombs to rise even further in 2007.
In the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, meanwhile, a suicide
attacker targeting police blew himself up, wounding three people,
said police officer Abdul Nafai.