Kabul, Afghanistan – For the second time in as many days, a suicide bomber used an Afghan National Security uniform to elude early detection and approach his target, killing five NATO service members attending an early Saturday morning meeting at the headquarters of the Afghan 201 Corps in eastern Afghanistan. The bombing was one of the worst attacks of its kind, NATO and Afghan military officials said.
The explosion at Forward Operating Base Gamberi on the border of Laghman and Nangahar Provinces in eastern Afghanistan also appears to have killed at least four Afghan National Army soldiers, according to Baz Mohammed Sherzad, the director of the public health hospital in Nangahar, which received the bodies of the dead. Eight other Afghans were wounded, including four Afghan soldiers and four interpreters who were accompanying the foreigners in the meeting, Afghan officials said.
It was one of the most lethal attacks involving the penetration of a military installation by an assailant — a style of attack that appears to be increasingly favored by the Taliban. In November 2010, six American soldiers were killed by a man wearing a border police uniform at a military training area in Nangahar, and a year earlier five British troops in Helmand were killed by an Afghan wearing a police uniform. There have been a number of other attacks with lower death tolls by people wearing the uniforms of the security forces. Typically, even predominantly Afghan bases and many smaller outposts have some NATO troops partnered with the Afghans.
“The Afghan and foreign forces had a meeting as usual, and an explosion took place, and the area is now surrounded,” said Maj. Mohammed Osman, a spokesman for the 201 Corps. “We found one leg that we expect might be from the suicide bomber.”
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was the beginning of their spring campaign, which they said would focus on infiltration of the security forces.
“We had recruited this man one month ago, and he was serving as an Afghan soldier for the last month,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman for the north and east of Afghanistan.
“Today, he got a very good chance to attack because Afghan and foreign military officials had a meeting at the base,” Mr. Mujahid said. He added that these kinds of attacks were “very useful for us — recruiting someone and working inside the Afghan forces — these attacks inflict more casualties to the enemy and do not inflict any civilians casualties.”
The attack on Saturday followed a Friday attack in which a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform killed Gen. Khan Mohammed Mujahid, the police chief of Kandahar Province, a revered figure both in Kandahar and around the country.
American officers have said privately that they are concerned with infiltration of the military and the police as they rapidly grow in numbers. In recent months the military’s leadership has taken steps to deal with it, said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who leads the United States and NATO training mission in Afghanistan.
In a speech last week at Chatham House, a military and strategic research institute in London, General Caldwell said that the training mission had begun to train counterintelligence agents to help find Taliban and insurgent infiltrators in the ranks of the security forces. About half of the target of 445 agents have completed the training, he said, Reuters reported.
“We’re bringing counterintelligence personnel into the lowest level of all the organizations,” General Caldwell said, adding of the new personnel that their “sole mission in life is to look for those who may be attempting to infiltrate in or turn somebody who was already in toward the Taliban.”