UPDATED 12/31/09 12:29 p.m. PDT: Seven CIA agents were killed Wednesday when a suicide bomber detonated a vest laced with explosives at a military base in eastern Afghanistan, US officials confirmed late Wednesday.
At least one other American is believed to have died in the bombing.
The Associated Press reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources, that the CIA’s base chief was killed in the blast and that the suicide bomber was invited onto the base but wasn’t searched.
A former senior intelligence official says the man was being courted as an informant and that it was the first time he had been brought inside the camp.
The official says a senior and experienced CIA debriefer came from Kabul for the meeting, suggesting that the purpose of the meeting was to gain intelligence.
The explosion occurred at the Forward Operating Base Chapman near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.
“Intelligence experts who have visited U.S. bases in the region say the CIA officers at Chapman would have focused mainly on recruiting local operatives and identifying targets,” the Washington Post reported.
In recent weeks, according to the Post, “the CIA has been quietly bolstering its ranks in Afghanistan…mirroring the surge of military troops there.”
Agency officers coordinated the initial U.S.-led attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001, and have since provided hundreds of spies, paramilitary operatives and analysts in the region for roles ranging from counterterrorism to counternarcotics. The agency also operates the remote-control aircraft used in aerial strikes on suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the lawless tribal provinces on the Pakistan side of the border. The campaign of strikes in Pakistan has not been officially acknowledged, but it has escalated rapidly in the past two years.
“We mourn the loss of life in this attack, and are withholding further details pending notification of next of kin,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly Wednesday afternoon.
In a memo to CIA employees, agency director Leon Panetta said, “Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism. We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives—a safer America.”
Six other Americans were wounded in the blast and, according to MSNBC, “four Canadian troops and a reporter embedded with their unit died when their armored vehicle hit the bomb while on an afternoon patrol south of Kandahar city.”
The Canadian Press identified the journalist as Michelle Lang, a 34-year-old health reporter with the Calgary Herald, who was on her first assignment to Afghanistan.
“The soldiers were conducting a community security patrol in order to gather information on the pattern of life and maintain security in the area,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, commander of the 2,800-member Canadian contingent, during a press briefing. “The journalist was traveling with them to tell the story of what Canada’s soldiers are doing in Afghanistan.”
Four Canadians soliders and a civilian were also wounded.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the attack “came on a day of deepening dispute between Western and Afghan authorities over whether an international raid earlier this week had killed Afghan civilians, including children.”
Wednesday’s blast came amid heightened tensions between NATO and Afghan officials over the U.S.-led raid in the northeastern province of Kunar over the weekend. An investigation ordered by Mr. Karzai found that 10 civilians were killed, including eight school children.
According to the United Nations, 2,021 civilians were killed during the first 10 months of 2009, compared with 1,838 who were killed during the same period last year. The UN said the Taliban insurgents were directly responsible for 68 percent of the deaths this year.
President Obama has called for 30,000 more troops to be deployed to Afghanistan by next July.