BAGRAM AIRBASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 10 people on Tuesday in an attack on the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan where U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting after an unannounced visit.While the AP adds that there has been considerable confusion over the number of casualties:
U.S. officials said Cheney was not hurt in the blast -- which took place outside a gate at the sprawling Bagram Airbase, about 60 km (40 miles) from Kabul -- but a U.S. soldier died.
Soon after the blast, Cheney went ahead with planned talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital, Kabul.
The meeting had been scheduled for Monday, but was delayed when Cheney was snowed in at Bagram soon after arriving from Islamabad on a secrecy-shrouded visit.
The former Afghan rulers, the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the blast, adding the bomber knew the U.S. Vice President was in the country.
There were conflicting reports on the death toll. Provincial Gov. Abdul Jabar Taqwa said 20 people were killed, but NATO said initial reports indicated only three were killed, including one U.S. soldier and 1 coalition soldier. NATO said 23 were wounded. It was unclear why there was such a large discrepancy in the reports.The Reuters report explains that Cheney was in Afghanistan to bolster President Karzai's government ahead of an expected spring offensive from the Taliban.
In Pakistan, Cheney pressed President Pervez Musharraf to do more about Taliban and other militants using its territory for shelter and training.None of which came as news to Musharaff since his ISI intelligence agency is the guiding hand behind the Taliban's efforts.
Citing U.S. officials, ABC News reported CIA deputy director Stephen Kappes had also shown Musharraf "compelling" CIA evidence of al Qaeda's resurgence on Pakistani soil.
The CIA evidence was said to include surveillance satellite photos pinpointing the locations of several new al Qaeda camps in the Pakistani border province of Waziristan, ABC reported.
The Afghan government, its foreign allies and the insurgents all warn of a bloody spring offensive as the snows melt within weeks. Some 4,000 people were killed in fighting last year in the bloodiest period since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
So the big question is - in the middle of a "secrecy-shrouded" trip to the region, who told the Taliban where Cheney would be? The most likely informants would be inside the Musharaff regime or Karzai's office, surely. Could this be a warning from the ISI after Cheney tried to get tough and threaten Musharaff?
(In related news, the Scotsman reports on a leaked UK intelligence assessment which suggests Afghanistan could soon replace Iraq as the focus for radical Muslims wanting to pursue jihad against western interests.)
Update Steve Soto gets it (via MEJ, who wonders how this will be blamed on Iran, somehow.):
This is really Romper Room. The Taliban are supported by Pakistan’s ISI, where Cheney visited the day before. Why is no one asking how the Taliban knew where Cheney was? Sure, the Taliban would not be here to attack him if Cheney and Rumsfeld had finished Bin Laden off five years ago at Tora Bora. Nor would the Taliban be in this position had Bush and Cheney not encouraged Musharraf to give Bin Laden and the Taliban a free pass out of North Waziristan back in September. But the fact that this trip has turned into a joke of sophomoric secrecy and an attack against the Veep is a perfect illustration of the administration’s failed foreign policy and war on terror.