KABUL, Afghanistan — An attack by two suicide bombers just outside a U.S. military outpost in Wardak province at daybreak Saturday killed at least a dozen Afghans and wounded 58 others, according to Afghan and U.S. officials. Several U.S. soldiers were also wounded.
The same military base suffered a devastating truck bombing last year on the eve of the 1oth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
That earlier assault on the base, known as Combat Outpost Sayed Abad, resulted in one of the worst tolls for foreign troops in a single attack in the war, with 77 Americans wounded and five Afghans killed, and was attributed to the Haqqani Taliban network. The attack proved especially significant because it was one of a handful of high-profile assaults that led U.S. officials to publicly accuse Pakistan's premier spy agency of supporting the Haqqani network in attacking U.S. targets.
According to Afghan officials, the attack Saturday started with a suicide bomber on foot detonating his explosives at a nearby police headquarters and ended with the detonation of a large cache of explosives being driven toward the base in a truck. The explosions occurred along a tight stretch of road that is home not only to the military outpost and the district police headquarters, but also to a crowded shopping bazaar. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said the truck bombing was near the bazaar and many of the Afghan victims were killed there.
Among the Afghans who died, eight were civilians and four were police officers, Afghan government officials said. One Afghan Parliament member from Wardak, Hamida Akbari, placed the death toll at 14, including six members of the Afghan security forces. The Afghans who were wounded included a woman, a child and three officers of the Afghan national spy agency, the National Directorate for Security.
The Taliban, who in recent weeks have repeatedly denied involvement in other deaths for which they were blamed by the Afghan authorities, quickly took responsibility for this attack. A Taliban spokesman said the target was the military outpost, which he noted was the same base targeted last year. He neither confirmed nor denied whether the Haqqani network had carried out the latest attack.
The bombings seemed to follow a clear blueprint: First, a man wearing a suicide vest and waving a Kalashnikov approached the gate of the district police headquarters building and opened fire, said the Wardak police chief, Abdul Qayoum Baqizoy. The police fired back, and the attacker blew himself up.
According to some officials, that initial blast did not kill anyone. But the explosion and the confusion that followed appeared intended to draw attention from what lurked nearby: A man driving a truck with a far more powerful payload of explosives.
Baqizoy said he thought the driver's target was the same police headquarters. But U.S. and NATO officials said the bomber's true target was the combat outpost. The truck exploded very close to the base, but failed to tear open a hole in the perimeter wall, officials said.
“It did not penetrate the exterior wall, and there was no assault force that tried to exploit the attack,” said Maj. Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Kabul. “It was right in front of the bazaar, and that's why there were so many civilian casualties.” He said a “very small number” of soldiers were wounded.
U.S. officials said the suicide attacker struck just moments before the truck exploded.
The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said a man named Ahmad wearing a suicide vest shot at guards at the entrance to the military outpost and then blew himself up. Next, he said, the truck full of explosives barreled into the gate of the base and exploded.
In Ghazni Province, two U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday in an insurgent attack. U.S. officials provided no details.