The Associated Press has learned that the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees at a remote outpost in southeastern Afghanistan had been invited onto the base and was not searched.
A former senior intelligence official said the man was being courted as an informant and that it was the first time he had been brought inside U.S. Forward Operating Base Chapman at the edge of Khost city, the capital of Khost province, which borders Pakistan and is a Taliban stronghold.
The official says a senior and experienced CIA debriefer came from Kabul for the meeting, suggesting that the purpose of the meeting was to gain intelligence.
The former senior intelligence official and another former official with knowledge of the attack spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The CIA has declined to comment on the report.
The Taliban on Thursday claimed responsibility for infiltrating the base with a suicide bomber who got into a gym and set off an explosion that killed seven Americans and an Afghan and wounded six others. The Associated Press has learned that one of the dead was the chief of the CIA’s post in southeastern Khost province.
Harold E. Brown Jr., a State Department employee of Fairfax, Va., died in the attack, his father, Harold E. Brown Sr., told the Associated Press on Thursday. The younger Mr. Brown, 37, who grew up in Bolton, Mass., served in the Army and remained a major in the reserves. He is survived by a wife and three children ages 12, 10 and 2.
Wednesday’s assault on the base was a blow to the CIA, which previously had lost only four operatives in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said Thursday in a message to agency staff that the casualties sustained in Wednesday’s strike were the result of a terrorist attack.
Initial reports indicated that eight American civilians had been killed. There was no explanation for the discrepancy in Mr. Panetta’s message, which was released by the CIA in an unusual step a day after one of the deadliest attacks on the agency in its history.
“Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism,” Mr. Panetta said. “We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives — a safer America.”
“Yesterday’s tragedy reminds us that the men and women of the CIA put their lives at risk every day to protect this nation,” he said. “Throughout our history, the reality is that those who make a real difference often face real danger.”
“No further information about the victims would be released,” the CIA director said, “due to the sensitivity of their mission and other ongoing operations.”
Separately, former CIA officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly said an agent who ran the agency’s base in Khost was among those killed by the attacker, who detonated a bomb-laden vest inside the compound.
The former officials said the Khost chief was the mother of three. As base chief she would have directed and coordinated CIA operations and intelligence gathering in the province, a hotbed of Taliban and insurgent activity because of its proximity to Pakistan’s lawless tribal region.
The attack came on a bloody day for NATO forces. A roadside bombing, also claimed by the Taliban, killed four Canadian troops and a Canadian journalist in southern Afghanistan. Elsewhere, police said militants beheaded six Afghans on Thursday for cooperating with government authorities.
Also Thursday, the United Nations said a preliminary investigation showed that a raid last weekend by foreign troops in a tense eastern Afghan province killed eight students. The attack sparked protests by Afghans against foreign troops.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that an Afghan National Army officer wearing a suicide vest entered the base and blew himself up inside the gym. A U.S. official who was briefed on Wednesday’s blast also said it took place in the gym.
There was no independent confirmation that the bomber in the attack on the U.S. base was a member of the Afghan military. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said no Afghan National Army soldiers are at the base.
But an Afghan official in Khost said the United States has hired about 200 Afghans to help with security at the base. They usually are deployed on the outer ring of its walls, although some work inside, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“It’s not the first time that Afghan forces have conducted such an attack to kill Americans or foreigners,” the Taliban statement said, citing the alleged killing of an American soldier and the wounding of two Italians this week in Badghis province. NATO has provided no details of that incident, but Afghan Gen. Jalander Shah Bahnam said an Afghan soldier opened fire on a base in the province’s Bala Murghab district.
An online message posted by the Afghan Taliban said 20 CIA staff were killed and 25 other people were wounded, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based terrorist tracking organization. The Taliban routinely exaggerate claims of enemy casualties.
A spokesman in Kabul for the international coalition force said no U.S. or NATO troops were killed. The attack was the deadliest for Americans since eight soldiers were killed in an insurgent attack on a base in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 3.
The only four known CIA operatives who have been killed in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are CIA officer Micheal “Mike” Spann, who was killed in a prison uprising in November 2001; an agency officer who died in a training exercise in 2003; and two contractors operating out of a CIA base in Shkin district of Paktika province who were killed the same year.
Forward Operating Base Chapman used to be a military base but was later turned into a CIA base, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. Some military men and women work there on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, one of several joint civilian-military units that secure and develop areas of Afghanistan. A NATO spokesman said “other personnel” operate from Chapman as well, but he said he could not elaborate.
Chapman is not the only U.S. base in Khost city. Also there is a major U.S. military base known as Camp Salerno, which includes a large Soviet-built airfield.
Camp Salerno and its outlying fire bases have been the focus of repeated militant suicide, artillery and sniper attacks over the past several years. One of the most brazen of the war occurred in August 2008 when a group of about 100 Taliban fighters broke through the perimeter of the base, which houses about 2,000 allied troops. After a two-hour firefight, the guerrillas were forced to retreat by attacking helicopter gunships.
In Wednesday’s other attack, NATO said the four Canadian troops and the reporter embedded in their unit died when their armored vehicle hit a bomb while on an afternoon patrol south of Kandahar city.
Michelle Lang, a 34-year-old health reporter with the Calgary Herald, was the first Canadian journalist to die in Afghanistan. She arrived in the country just two weeks ago. Ms. Lang “was one of those journalists who always wanted to get to the bottom of every story so this was an important trip for her,” said a Calgary Herald colleague, Colette Derworiz.
The military has not disclosed the names of the Canadian troops because relatives have not all been notified.
Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, commander of coalition forces in Kandahar, said the soldiers were conducting a community security patrol.
According to figures compiled by the Associated Press, 32 Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year; in all, 138 have died in the war.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement of condolence to Americans and Canadians, saying “your children sacrificed their lives for the people of Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism. The Afghans will not forget your sacrifice.”
Mr. Karzai has been critical of NATO forces, though, for attacks that have killed civilians. Claims of civilians killed by foreign forces are a highly emotional issue among Afghans and feed strong resentment of international soldiers.
U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander, has made avoiding such deaths a critical part of his strategy.
The attack last weekend in Kunar province has been a bone of contention between the Afghan government, which said 10 civilians were killed, and NATO, which said there was no evidence to substantiate that claim.
On Thursday, U.N. special representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement that although insurgents were in the area at the time, eight of the 10 killed in the nighttime attack were students in local schools.
Separately, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province in the south said an airstrike by international forces killed and wounded civilians. Dawud Ahmadi said he did not know how many were killed Wednesday in Babajid district. He said the attack took place after an international forces patrol came under fire.
NATO said it was aware of the reports and was investigating.
Elsewhere, police said militants beheaded six Afghans for cooperating with government authorities. Juma Gul Hamit, police chief of Uruzgan province in south-central Afghanistan, said the men were killed near the provincial capital of Tarin Kot. He said a seventh victim was being treated for serious neck wounds.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah, Deb Riechmann, Jim Heintz and Dusan Stojanovic reported from Kabul; Matthew Lee, Pamela Hess and Pauline Jelinek reported from Washington; and Adam Goldman contributed from in New York.