Eight American civilians have been killed in a suicide bomb attack on a US military base in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
The eight people died when an attacker detonated a vest packed with explosives on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province, a key Taliban stronghold.
“Eight Americans have been killed in an attack on RC-East,” a US embassy official said, referring to the military region of eastern Afghanistan.
“No US and no ISAF military personnel were killed or injured” in the incident, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) added.
Suicide attacks are a hallmark of the Taliban, who are waging a major insurgency to topple the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The number of foreign civilians under government contracts in Afghanistan is increasing, with the strategy to defeat the Taliban placing more emphasis on development and aid.
The US said last month it had doubled the number of civilian experts working in Afghanistan and was “on track” to meet its goal of nearly 1,000 by the new year.
Civilian expert quotas doubled
Many are to work in provincial military bases alongside military reconstruction teams.
The attack came just over two months after Taliban suicide gunmen stormed a Kabul hostel in a dawn attack and killed five UN workers.
It also came as the international forces in Afghanistan – numbering 113,000 and set to grow to 150,000 next year – are embroiled in controversy over the deaths of Afghan civilians in an operation on Saturday.
In an incident that has inflamed public anger and strained ties between the Kabul administration and the Western military protecting it, President Karzai accused international forces of shooting dead 10 people, most members of the same family and eight of them teenagers.
The incident, in eastern Kunar province, sparked demonstrations on Wednesday, which saw protesters burning the US flag and calling for foreign troops to leave.
But NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said there was “no direct evidence to substantiate” the findings of investigators that unarmed civilians were killed.
Controversy over civilian deaths
“As the joint assault force entered the village, they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals,” an ISAF statement said.
“Several assault rifles, ammunition and ammonium nitrate used in bomb-making were discovered,” it said.
A senior Western military official said the international forces involved in the operation were “US non-military” but could give no further details.
The US embassy in Kabul could not comment on whether the operation had involved members of US agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Taliban activity is high in Kunar as militants are believed to cross into Afghanistan over the porous border with Pakistan.
UN figures released this week show civilian deaths rose 10.8 per cent in the first 10 months of 2009 to 2,038, up from 1,838 for the same period of 2008.
UN calculations show the majority, or 1,404 civilians, were killed by insurgents fighting to overthrow Karzai’s government and eject Western troops.