Thursday, December 31, 2009

Afghanistan War Update: CIA Operatives Killed in Attack by Resistance Forces

Thursday, December 31, 2009
09:26 Mecca time, 06:26 GMT

Foreigners killed in Afghan attacks

Nearly 140 Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002

Five Canadians and eight Americans have been killed in two separate attacks in Afghanistan, with officials saying that the Americans were working for the CIA, the US intelligence agency.

The Taliban on Thursday claimed responsibility for the attack on the Americans, who were killed in a suicide attack on a US base in the eastern province of Khost.

A suicide bomber reportedly evaded security at the base and detonated an explosive belt in a room used as a fitness centre on Wednesday.

A former senior CIA officer who was stationed at the base said a combination of agency officers and contractors operated out of the remote outpost with the military and other agencies.

Initial reports suggested the men killed had been soldiers.

'Reconstruction staff'

"There has been a great deal of confusion when the reports emerged yesterday," Hashem Ahelbarra, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from the Afghan capital, Kabul, said.

"We contacted the spokesperson of Isaf [the International Security Assistance Force] to confirm to us that US soldiers were killed.

"Then he came back to us in half an hour and said there had been a great deal of confusion and actually 'no, these are not US soldiers but civilians'. They are members of the PRT, which is the provincial reconstruction team."

The PRT was established in Afghanistan in 2002 by the US to assist in reconstruction efforts at district and provincial levels.

US media reports said the Americans killed were employed by the CIA.

The Washington Post newspaper, citing US officials, said the eight killed were working for the CIA, while the Associated Press cited an unnamed US official as saying CIA employees were believed to be among the dead.

According to The Washington Post report, the CIA has been bolstering its ranks in Afghanistan in recent weeks, mirroring the increase in troops.

The CIA has not yet commented or confirmed the deaths.

The base in Khost, known as Forward Operating Base Chapman, is a centre for personnel working on reconstruction projects in the country.

The US has committed to send hundreds of civilians to support work on development projects that aim to undermine support for the Taliban and other fighters.

But as the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, many of the civilians working outside Kabul have retreated to army bases.

Several other people, none of them US or Nato troops, were wounded in the explosion, US defence officials said.

Canadians killed

The five Canadians were killed in a attack in the southern province of Kandahar just hours later.

The group, made up of four Canadian soldiers and a journalist accompanying them, were visiting community reconstruction projects and were killed when their armoured vehicle was hit by a bomb, the Canadian defence ministry said.

The journalist, Michelle Lang, was with The Calgary Herald.

The paper said Lang had been in the country since December 11 and was the first Canadian journalist to die in Afghanistan since Canada joined the international mission there in 2002.

The attack was the worst against Canada's military in the country in two years and brought its military deaths in Afghanistan to 138.

Canada has 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, but the mission has become increasingly unpopular at home and it is scheduled to be withdrawn at the end of 2011.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Dec 30 2009, 11:10 pm by Marc Ambinder

Eight CIA Officers Die In Afghanistan

The Central Intelligence Agency, the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence aren't commenting on press reports that eight CIA officers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated at a military base in the province of Khost.

The death of eight CIA officers would be the agency's worst toll since the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, when at least six officers were killed. Robert Baer, the now ubiquitous former CIA officer who spend years hunting down the Beirut bombers, has written that the agency never recovered from the loss of life that day. In an environment where the CIA is under extreme pressure from all corners, the Afghanistan massacre begins history as a tragedy that even under ordinary conditions the agency would find it hard to bear. Leon Panetta, the CIA director, must now add, to the mountain of pressing concerns, the grief counseling for thousands of employees.

The CIA's semi-covert Predator drone strike program, targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who cross back and forth from Pakistan, has killed hundreds -- a number of which were most likely innocent civilians by any definition.

This is not to suggest an equivalence -- just to say that the agency's American operatives are most definitely combatants in this war, which is also to say that the rules of war and the legal understandings that the CIA is using to fight terrorism in Pakistan are not clear and not easily explicable to the American people. With the CIA's massive footprint in Afghanistan, some sort of tragedy was probably inevitable. (In 2001, officer Johnny Spann, a member of the CIA's Special Activities Division, was killed in action in Afghanistan.)

It is tempting to associate the three publicly known CIA-related mass murders -- the Beirut bombings, the 1993 shootings near CIA headquarters in Virginia and today's events -- with America's 30-plus year struggle against Islamic extremism. It is worth noting, however, that the CIA's two major traitors, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, directly caused the deaths of dozens of people who risked their life to protect American lives.

One also wonders how many CIA contacts -- people who helped provide actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda -- have been killed.,0,5154434.story

Afghanistan suicide bombing kills 8 CIA officers

The Taliban takes responsibility for the explosion at a U.S. base in Khowst province where the agency has a major presence. No U.S. or NATO military personnel are hurt.

By Greg Miller and Laura King
10:05 PM PST, December 30, 2009

Reporting from Rochester, N.Y. Laura King, and Kabul -- A bomber slipped inside a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday and detonated a suicide vest, killing eight CIA officers in one of the deadliest days in the agency's history, current and former U.S. officials said.

The attack took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khowst province, an area near the border with Pakistan that is a hotbed of insurgent activity. It also injured an undisclosed number of civilians, the officials said. No military personnel from U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces were killed or injured, they said.

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the CIA had a major presence at the base, in part because of the strategic location. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a message posted early Thursday on its Pashtu-language website.

The casualties highlight the increasingly important role the CIA is playing in Afghanistan, and come as the United States is embarking on a major buildup of its civilian workforce that parallels an increase in troop strength.

President Obama announced early this month that he planned to send an additional 30,000 troops to the country in an effort to break the momentum Taliban fighters have gained in many parts of the country. The deployment will bring the total U.S. military force in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000.

A former U.S. intelligence official knowledgeable about Wednesday's bombing said it had killed more CIA personnel than any attack since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983. Before Wednesday's attack, four CIA operatives had been killed in Afghanistan, the former official said.

The eight dead were CIA officers, the former official said. "They were all career CIA officials."

The U.S. official said the bomber detonated his explosive vest in an area that was used as a fitness center. CIA veterans were stunned by the news and at a loss to explain how a bomber was able to penetrate the compound's security.

"It's a forward operating base in a dicey area, but to get a suicide bomber inside the wires -- it's hard to understand how that could happen," the former official said.

Officials said this fall that the agency was deploying spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives in a buildup that would make its station there among the largest in CIA history.

Though the CIA station is based at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the bulk of its workforce is scattered among secret bases and military outposts dotting the country. Most CIA personnel in Afghanistan is involved in support functions such as providing security or managing computer systems, rather than in gathering and analyzing intelligence.

But some of the tasks civilians perform, particularly those involving law enforcement and intelligence gathering, are considered as dangerous as military duty. Three civilian Drug Enforcement Administration agents were killed in a helicopter crash in October in western Afghanistan. They were accompanying troops on a counternarcotics mission.

Khowst province has been a prime target of militants operating in eastern Afghanistan and just across the border in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Most of the foreign troops in the province are Americans.

The Chapman base is part of NATO's Regional Command East, which is supervised by the U.S. military. It also houses Western civilians working on reconstruction projects.

The main U.S. base in the province, known as Camp Salerno, has been the target of numerous attacks. Suicide bombers have blown themselves up just outside its gates while trying to penetrate the heavily fortified installation. Afghan civilians usually bear the brunt of such attacks.

Last week, Taliban militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests entered a building near a police station in the nearby city of Gardez, setting off a battle with U.S. and Afghan security forces that lasted the morning.

Meanwhile Wednesday, Western military officials said four Canadian soldiers and a Canadian journalist were killed in an explosion in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

The Canadian Press quoted journalists in Afghanistan as saying the journalist was reporter Michelle Lang, 34, of the Calgary Herald.

This year has seen the highest death toll among U.S. military forces since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001. So far this year, 311 American troops have been killed, according to the independent website, bringing the death toll for U.S. forces during the war to 941.

A total of 138 Canadian troops have been killed, 32 of them this year, Canadian Press said.

Afghan bomb dead 'worked for CIA'

Eight Americans reportedly working for the CIA have died in a bomb attack in Afghanistan, the worst against US intelligence officials since 2001.

A bomber wearing an explosive vest entered Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province, near Pakistan.

A Taliban spokesman has said one of its members carried out the attack.

In a separate incident, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist died when their vehicle was blown up in the south-eastern province of Kandahar.

It is the worst fatal incident affecting Canadians in Afghanistan for more than two years.

'Award-winning reporter'

The journalist has been identified as Michelle Lang, 34, from the Calgary Herald, who had just arrived on her first assignment in the country.

The armoured vehicle the group were travelling in was touring local reconstruction projects.

An award-winning health reporter, her colleagues at the newspaper were said to have been devastated by the news of the death of Ms Lang, who was recently engaged to be married and described as bright, quick-witted and kind.

"We are all very saddened to hear this tragic news," Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert said in a statement. "Michelle covered health issues with professionalism, accuracy and thoroughness."

The BBC's Lee Carter, in Toronto, says the deaths will add to the conviction felt by many Canadians that the country has carried a disproportionate number of casualties - the total has now reached 138 - especially in comparison to some European Nato allies.

Remote areas

A Taliban spokesman has said the group was responsible for the suicide bomb attack at Chapman Base.

Speaking to the BBC, Zabiullah Mujahid claimed that the bomber was also an Afghan soldier and was wearing uniform when he managed to breach security at the base.

Initially, the dead Americans in Khost were described simply as civilians, but they were later reported to be affiliated to the CIA.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the exact nature of their role is not year clear but some of those killed may have been contractors to the agency.


Kim Ghattas, Washington It is probably the deadliest attack against US intelligence officials since the start of the war in 2001. What was unusual about this attack was that the suicide bomber was able to detonate his explosives inside the base. In the past, such attacks would have mostly killed Afghan labourers lined up outside a base, looking for work. There will be a lots of questions asked about this attack - how exactly, for example, did the attacker manage to infiltrate the base, was it perhaps an inside job and did he get help from Afghans on the base?

The CIA has been increasing its presence in Afghanistan and is involved in work ranging from counter terrorism to counter narcotics. It also operates the unmanned aircraft used in aerial strikes against al-Qaeda fighters in the border areas of Pakistan.

Reports suggested the attacker struck inside the gym at the base. It is not clear how many people were injured.

"We mourn the loss of life in this attack, and are withholding further details pending notification of next of kin," US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

A spokesman for Isaf, the international Nato force in Afghanistan, said that "no US and no Isaf military personnel were killed or injured" in the incident.

Khost province - which is one of the Taliban's strongholds - has been targeted by militants over the past year.

The number of foreign civilians deployed in Afghanistan has been rising as international efforts there focus increasingly on development and aid.

Civilians work alongside military reconstruction teams at provincial bases around the country.

A "civilian surge" was one of the three core elements of the new US strategy for Afghanistan announced by US President Barack Obama at the beginning of the month.

This has been the deadliest year for foreign troops since the 2001 invasion.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/12/31 05:48:10 GMT

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
23:32 Mecca time, 20:32 GMT

Afghan soldier kills US serviceman

The US and Nato are to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan

An Afghan soldier has shot and killed a member of the US army and wounded two Italian troops at a base in western Afghanistan.

The soldier died of his wounds on Tuesday after the shooting during a supply operation in Bala Murghab in Badghis province at about 1130am (0700GMT), security officials said.

"An Isaf service member from the United States died following a shooting today in western Afghanistan," Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said in a statement.

"Isaf is working with its Afghan partners to investigate the incident.

"The soldier who opened fire was also wounded during the response from Isaf soldiers and the Afghan army who were at the scene. He was arrested immediately and is now under observation in the camp hospital."

The pair of Italian soldiers suffered only minor injuries and have returned to duty, an Italian military spokesman said.

Motive unclear

An Isaf spokesman said it was not clear whether the incident occured by accident or with intent.

The Afghan soldier is from an area north of Kabul, the capital, and is thought to have mental problems.

In November, an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers in the south of the country.

The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Barack Obama, the US president, has committed to increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan, with an emphasis on training local security forces.

Italy is one of more than 40 Nato countries with soldiers in Afghanistan to fight with Afghan forces against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Nato has been in Afghanistan following the US and UK's invasion of the country in 2001, to remove the Taliban, accused of harbouring al-Qaeda operatives, from power.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Taliban responsible for deaths of 8 'CIA agents' in Afghanistan

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a base in eastern Afghanistan that killed eight American citizens believed to be working for the CIA

By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 6:00AM GMT 31 Dec 2009

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that a Taliban bomber wearing a military uniform and a suicide vest entered a base in Khost and blew himself up inside the gym.

One official described Forward Operating Base Chapman, near the Pakistan border, as a former military compound that was “not a regular base” any more. Another source said the base was used by “other agencies”, suggesting that intelligence personnel were involved. Breaching a secure base that carries out potentially sensitive operations made it a particularly bold attack.

A US Congressional official said that CIA employees are believed to be among the dead.

The CIA has not yet commented on or confirmed the deaths.

In a separate incident, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist died when their vehicle was blown up in the south-eastern province of Kandahar. The journalist has been identified as Michelle Lang, 34, from the Calgary Herald, who had just arrived on her first assignment in the country.

The Khost bombing was one of the highest American civilian death tolls in a single incident during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The last known CIA fatality in Afghanistan was Johnny “Mike” Spann, a paramilitary office killed during a jail riot at Qala-i-Jangi in 2001.

Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, is one of the centres of the Taliban insurgency. Most foreigners working there are soldiers or contractors working in reconstruction and intelligence operations. Afghan civilian casualties in the area have been increasing, raising tensions between the Afghan government and Western forces.

The attack on the Americans came as the international forces in Afghanistan - numbering 113,000 and set to grow to 150,000 next year - were embroiled in controversy over the deaths of Afghan civilians in an operation on Saturday.

President Hamid Karzai has accused international forces of shooting dead ten unarmed civilians, including eight teenagers. Nato’s International Security Assistance Force has disputed the findings of an Afghan government investigation, saying the deaths occurred in a battle in which nine insurgents were killed.

Afghans protest civilian deaths in foreign raid

By Amin Jalali
Wednesday, December 30, 2009; 4:41 PM

ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets on Wednesday to protest against a raid by foreign troops which Afghan officials say killed 10 civilians, but NATO forces said was a battle in which 9 insurgents died.

The incident, which took place in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan at the weekend, has inflamed tensions between the Afghan government and Western forces.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and ordered an investigation, but his denunciation comes at a time when there are signs that foreign forces' efforts to reduce civilian deaths may finally be having some effect.

Karzai's relationship with the West has soured following his fraud-ridden re-election in August and he is under mounting pressure to stamp out widespread government graft.

However, he is also under domestic pressure to do more to rein in foreign troops. Civilian casualties in previous attacks by NATO-led forces have stoked public anger toward both Westerners and the Afghan government they are backing.

Asadullah Wafa, head of the presidential delegation sent to investigate the weekend attack in Kunar province, one of the most remote and unstable corners in the east, said on Wednesday he had confirmed there were no insurgents among the dead.

"Those people that were killed were innocent civilians," Wafa told reporters. The victims were eight boys, aged between 13 and 18, and two men in their 20s, he added.

Wafa said foreign troops had been airlifted in for the attack, resolving some confusion about an operation which had previously been described by senior officials as both an airstrike and a "commando-style" raid.

The NATO-led force on Wednesday said they were questioning the claims of civilian casualties and called for a joint investigation with Afghan authorities.

A joint coalition and Afghan force entered the village of Ghazi Khan in Narang district in search of a known insurgent group, the NATO-led force said in a statement.

"As the joint assault force entered the village, they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals," it said.

But Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Azimy earlier said Afghan troops had not taken part in the operation.


Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level in the eight years since the ouster of the Taliban. More than 2,000 civilians were killed in the first 10 months of this year, a 10 percent rise on the same period in 2008, according to U.N. figures.

But while total numbers of civilian casualties have risen year on year, the number of ordinary Afghans killed by Afghan and foreign forces decreased this year.

Seventy percent of civilians killed in the first 10 months of 2009 died in insurgent attacks, the United Nations said, up from 55 percent last year. Civilian deaths caused by foreign and Afghan troops fell from 38 percent in 2008 to 22 percent in 2009.

"We attribute this to concerted efforts on the part of the military forces to put civilians at the fore of military planning," said U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique.

There are around 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan and Washington is sending 30,000 more to try and quell the mounting violence. Other NATO countries are sending 7,000 more.

Since taking command in June, the commander of foreign troops, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, has issued new orders designed to reduce civilian deaths by placing limits on the use of firepower.

But for most Afghans, civilian deaths will continue to be an emotive issue.

In Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, which borders Kunar, around 200 university students rallied in the streets to protest, demanding those responsible for the weekend attack be brought to justice.

"We have no more patience. It has happened repeatedly. If it occurs again, we will drop our pens and take arms," one group chanted. Others blamed Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama.

"Death to Obama. Down with Karzai," they shouted.

In Kabul, a crowd of around a hundred, mostly young men, gathered in a western district to vent their frustration at the killings.

"Obama! Obama! Take your soldiers out of Afghanistan!" the protesters chanted, wearing blue headbands with the words: "Stop killing us!" Others held placards with pictures of dead children they said were killed by foreign troops. (Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Emma Graham-Harrison in KABUL; Writing by Jonathon Burch)

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