Blast occurs while Cheney visits
Suspected insurgents set off a blast early today outside the main U.S. base in Afghanistan while Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting, killing as many as 20 people, officials said.
Cheney was not injured in the explosion outside Bagram air base, north of Kabul, the capital, the U.S. military said.
But the blast was seen as a brazen effort on the part of insurgents to show they could cause disruption during Cheney’s visit, and strike close to a heavily fortified area.
The vice president arrived at Bagram on Monday night after a brief, unscheduled stop in Pakistan to meet with President Pervez Musharraf.
News agencies cited local Afghan authorities as saying the explosion occurred near the outermost gate of the base, which is the principal entrance. Several more inner gates and checkpoints separate the area from the main part of the installation, which is a former Soviet military base.
Just outside the gate lies a makeshift market with a cluster of small, ramshackle shops, some of them housed in metal shipping containers. At midmorning, the time of the blast, the area is usually crowded with merchants and shoppers.
The governor of Bagram, Abdul Jabar Taqwa, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying as many as 20 bodies were on the ground after the explosion. Earlier, witnesses had put the death toll much lower.
Cheney had planned to travel to Kabul by military helicopter to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday evening, but a snowstorm made it too dangerous to fly.
The vice president instead met with senior U.S. military officials and breakfasted this morning with American troops at the Bagram base.
A meeting with Karzai was to be held today in the capital.
Officials in Cheney’s entourage said earlier that he intended to consult with the Afghan leader about the spring offensive that Taliban fighters are expected to mount in coming weeks against allied troops.
Special correspondent Azimi reported from Kabul and Times staff writer King from Peshawar, Pakistan.