- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

3:20 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber dressed in a doctor’s white coat slipped into a hospital compound in eastern Afghanistan today, where he was challenged by police and NATO soldiers before detonating his explosives. Seven NATO troops and a hospital employee were injured, a local official said.

The suicide bomber was initially stopped by Afghan police as he entered the compound of the main government hospital in the city of Khost, where about 150 people had gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open an emergency ward.

The bomber ran off as he was being questioned, and NATO troops shot him several times before one soldier “wrestled him to the ground, restraining him long enough to allow the crowd of people to move safely away,” a NATO statement said.

That soldier was able to break free before the bomber detonated his explosive and sustained only minor injuries, but two other wounded troops were evacuated to a NATO base for treatment, the statement said. The bomber died.

“The people were running everywhere, and it was difficult at first to figure out what was happening,” Cpl. Anthony Rush, who saw the attack, was quoted as saying in the statement.

The alliance gave no details on the troops’ nationalities. Khost provincial Gov. Arsalah Jamal said that they were American and that one hospital employee also was wounded.

Most of the NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan are American.

Last year, Taliban-led militants carried out about 140 suicide attacks, mostly targeting foreign and Afghan forces and officials of President Hamid Karzai’s elected government — part of a wave of violence that made 2006 the bloodiest year here since the ouster of the hard-line regime in 2001.

In western Farah province today, about 200 Afghan police and soldiers, backed by NATO, retook the remote town of Bakwa that was overrun by Taliban yesterday, provincial Gov. Muhajuddin Baluch said. They met no resistance as the militants had reportedly left the area soon after they staged their attack and police fled.

It was the second time this month that the government has lost control of a district in the region.

Taliban militants overran Musa Qala in nearby Helmand province on Feb. 1, defying a peace deal between the government and elders last year that capped weeks of fighting. The government is negotiating with elders to get them to persuade the militants to leave.

In southern Zabul province, NATO forces shot dead an Afghan civilian and wounded another who failed to stop their vehicle at a checkpoint on a main highway near the site of where a U.S. Chinook helicopter had crashed, the alliance said today.

Eight U.S. troops died in the crash Sunday that occurred after the helicopter reported engine failure.

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