KABUL, Afghanistan (AP)| A suicide bomber wearing an Afghan border policeman’s uniform blew himself up Thursday at a U.S. base near the Pakistani frontier, wounding five Americans, an Afghan official said.
The spokesman for Paktia province, Roullah Samoun, said the attack occurred after sundown in a barracks at a U.S. facility in the Dand aw Patan district in eastern Afghanistan, about 35 miles east of Gardez.
He did not identify the base by name or say what kind of personnel are stationed there.
A U.S. statement said “several” U.S. service members were injured in an explosion at a joint U.S.-Afghan outpost in Paktia but gave no further details.
On Dec. 30 a Jordanian believed to be a double agent blew himself up at a CIA base in another border province, Khost, killing seven agency employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer.
Meanwhile in the southern Helmand province, U.S. and Afghan soldiers linked up with Marines on the outskirts of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, sealing off escape routes and setting the stage for what is being described as the biggest offensive of the nine-year war.
Taliban defenders repeatedly fired rockets and mortars at units poised in foxholes along the edge of the town, apparently trying to lure NATO forces into skirmishes before the big attack.
“They’re trying to draw us in,” said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, 30, of Tulsa, Okla., commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.
Up to 1,000 militants are believed holed up in Marjah, a key Taliban logistics base and center of the lucrative opium poppy trade. But the biggest threats are likely to be the land mines and bombs hidden in the roads and fields of the farming community, 380 miles southwest of Kabul.
The precise date for the attack has been kept secret. U.S. officials have signaled for weeks they planned to seize Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people in Helmand province and the biggest community in southern Afghanistan under Taliban control.
NATO officials say the goal is to seize the town quickly and re-establish Afghan government authority, bringing public services in hopes of winning support of the townspeople once the Taliban are gone. Hundreds of Afghan soldiers were to join U.S. Marines in the attack to emphasize the Afghan role in the operation.
A Taliban spokesman dismissed the significance of Marjah, saying the NATO operation was “more propaganda than military necessity.”
Nevertheless, the spokesman, Mohammed Yusuf, said in a dialogue on the Taliban Web site that the insurgents would strike the attackers with explosives and hit-and-run tactics, according to a summary by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant Internet traffic.
A British soldier was killed in a bombing Thursday in Helmand province, the Ministry of Defense announced in London. It was not clear whether the soldier was part of the Marjah operation.