- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2012

KABUL, Afganistan — A suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into the gates of a NATO base and airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, triggering a blast that killed nine Afghans, officials said.

The Taliban claimed the attack was revenge for U.S. troops burning copies of the Koran.

The bombing in the city of Jalalabad follows six days of deadly protests in the country over the disposal of Korans and other Islamic texts in a burn pit last week at a U.S. military base north of Kabul.

U.S. officials have called the disposal of the books a mistake, and have issued a series of apologies.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged calm, calling on his countrymen not to allow insurgents to capitalize on their indignation to spark violence.

About 40 people have been killed in protests and related attacks since the incident became known last Tuesday, including four U.S. soldiers.

NATO, France, Britain and the U.S. have pulled their advisers from Afghan ministries out of concern that the anti-foreigner anger might erupt again.

On Monday, the United Nations also scaled back its operations, moving its international staff from an office in the northern city of Kunduz that was attacked during protests Saturday, the organization said in a statement.

The evacuation was ordered “to put in place additional arrangements and measures to make sure the office can continue to operate in safety,” the U.N. said, adding that the move is temporary and that staff will be relocated within Afghanistan.

Despite the pullback, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said that the partnership with the Afghan government was as strong as ever.

“We are steadfast in our desire to support our Afghan partners, and will use the extensive range of our resources to eradicate this heartless insurgency,” Air Force Gen. John Allen said in a statement condemning the Jalalabad bombing.

In Monday’s attack, the bomber drove up to the gates of the airport, which primarily serves international military aircraft, and detonated his explosives in a “very strong” blast shortly after daybreak, said Nangarhar provincial police spokesman Hazrad Mohammad.

Among the dead were six civilians, two airport guards and one soldier, Mr. Mohammad said. Another six people were wounded, he said. An AP photographer saw at least four mangled, charred cars at the site destroyed in the blast.

NATO forces spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff said that no international forces were killed in the attack and that the base was not breached by the blast.

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