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8 American civilians killed by suicide bomber in Afghanistan

A suicide bomber entered a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least eight Americans in what is believed to be the deadliest single attack on U.S. intelligence personnel in the 8-year-long war and one of the deadliest in the agency's history, U.S. officials said.

The attack represented a blow to intelligence operatives at the vanguard of U.S. counterterrorism operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing officials whose job involves plotting strikes against the Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist groups that are active on the frontier between the two nations. The facility that was targeted — Forward Operating Base Chapman — is in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, which borders North Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal area that is believed to be al-Qaida's home base.

The Washington Post reported that U.S. sources confirmed to the paper that all the dead and injured were civilians and said they believed that most, if not all, were CIA employees or contractors. At least one Afghan civilian also was killed.

It is unclear exactly how the assailant managed to gain access to the heavily guarded U.S.-run post, which serves as an operations and surveillance center for the CIA. The bomber struck in what was described as the base's fitness center.

In addition to the dead, eight people were wounded, several of them seriously.

While many details remained vague Wednesday, the attack appears to have killed more U.S. intelligence personnel than have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion began in late 2001. The CIA has previously acknowledged the deaths of four officers in fighting in Afghanistan in the past eight years.

"It is the nightmare we've been anticipating since we went into Afghanistan and Iraq," said John McLaughlin, a former CIA deputy director who now serves on a board that supports children of CIA officers slain on the job.

The CIA has declined to comment publicly on the attack until relatives of the dead are notified. The Washington Post reported that a former senior agency official said it was the worst single-day casualty toll for the agency since eight CIA officers were killed in the April 1983 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

The CIA has been quietly bolstering its ranks in Afghanistan in recent weeks, mirroring the surge of military troops there. Intelligence experts who have visited U.S. bases in the region say the CIA officers at Chapman would have focused mainly on recruiting local operatives and identifying targets.

"The best intelligence is going to come from the field, and that means working closely with the Afghans," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

Separately, the Associated Press said NATO officials said Wednesday that four Canadian troops and a journalist from Canada were killed in an explosion in Kandahar province, one of the most dangerous areas of southern Afghanistan. Michelle Lang, 34, a reporter with the Calgary Herald was on her first assignment to Afghanistan.

8 American civilians killed by suicide bomber in Afghanistan 12/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:51pm]

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