U.S. base in normally tranquil Afghan province hit by suicide team


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REPORTING FROM KABUL, Afghanistan -- A team of insurgent bombers and gunmen on Saturday made an audacious attempt to overrun an American base in what has long been considered one of Afghanistan’s safest provinces.

Afghan officials said two Afghan fuel suppliers and all four attackers were killed in the strike on the headquarters of the so-called provincial reconstruction team in Panjshir, a province north of Kabul, where security responsibilities were handed over in July to Afghan forces.


Panjshir, traditionally a staunch anti-Taliban stronghold, has been largely free of insurgent activity during the 10-year-old Afghan conflict. But the Taliban and other insurgent groups have recently made a point of targeting normally tranquil areas where the security transition has already taken place.

Western forces are aiming to wind down their combat mission by 2014, leaving the Afghan police and army in charge of safeguarding the country. But attacks have been on the rise in the country’s east, where Panjshir -- and the capital, Kabul -- are located.

Afghan and coalition officials gave somewhat differing accounts of the strike on the base in Panjshir’s Rakha district, which took place at dawn, beginning with the detonation of an explosives-packed vehicle at the gates of the installation. The base is manned by a combination of troops and civilians working mainly on development projects.

A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, said the attackers had not penetrated the installation or inflicted any serious damage, but the Panjshir provincial police chief, Gen. Mohammed Jangalbagh, said a guard tower was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The police chief also reported that an American was wounded along with two Afghan security guards, but DeWitt said there were no U.S. deaths or injuries. Jangalbagh blamed “enemies of the people” trying to spread insecurity to peaceful parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.



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-- Laura King