Afghan President Condemns Fatal Bombing At Military Airfield

By: CNN - Posted by Giang Nguyen Email
By: CNN - Posted by Giang Nguyen Email

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned a suicide bombing Monday at a military airfield, the latest incident in a spike in violence following the burning of Qurans by NATO troops last week.

At least nine people were killed and 12 wounded in the early morning explosion near the front gate of the airport in Jalalabad, according to Gen. Abdulla Hazim Stanikzai, the provincial police chief. There were no NATO casualties.

The Taliban said the attack was in retaliation for the Quran burning and said it hoped the attacks will continue "with the anger of the public."

The Qurans were among religious materials seized from a detainee facility at Bagram Airfield last week and burned. U.S. President Barack Obama apologized to Karzai last week, calling the burning an inadvertent error.

The insurgency in Afghanistan is often scattered, and it was not immediately clear whether the attack near the International Security Assistance Force base Monday was indeed carried out in reaction to the Quran burning or whether it was a long-planned assault that the Taliban was now seizing on for political capital.

The Taliban also claimed Monday to be behind the poisoning of food at a dining facility at Forward Operating Base Torkham, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It too was a retaliatory attack, the group said.

ISAF confirmed that food at the base appeared to have been contaminated over the weekend, though it was unclear if it was deliberate.

"Nobody got sick. An Afghan dining facility worker came to his leaders at the FOB and said that something had been poisoned," Maj. David Eastburn, an ISAF spokesman, said.

"The dining facility was shut down and we brought in environmental health, who found traces of chlorine bleach in the coffee and fruit. Soldiers are now eating pre-prepared rations and no one was affected. There is a full investigation that is narrowing down who was responsible."

The Taliban has frequently exaggerated its claims or claimed responsibility for attacks that later turned out to be the work of another group.

Even so, Monday's bombing and news of the contaminated food come on the heels of a week of violent protests over the Quran burning. The violence has left at least 39 people dead, including four American soldiers, and hundreds more wounded.

In northern Kunduz province over the weekend, protesters attacked a police chief's office and a U.S. military base, authorities said. Some threw hand grenades at the base, known as Combat Outpost Fortitude, with resulting blasts wounding seven U.S. personnel believed to be Special Forces members, they said.

Two U.S. soldiers were gunned down last week at a base in eastern Afghanistan by a man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform.

Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, pulled military advisers from Afghan ministries after Saturday's shooting deaths of two other U.S. soldiers inside the heavily secure Ministry of Interior. Authorities are searching for the suspected killer, identified by Afghan police as a junior officer in the ministry's intelligence department.

The suspect had been fired by the Interior Ministry but rejoined the intelligence services as a driver a couple of months ago, a senior Afghan counterterrorism official said Monday.

"We do not know how he was allowed into the office, as the command and control center requires a password for access," said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media about the topic.. "There is something fishy there."

The official said he believed the suspect used a silencer on his weapon as no one heard the gunshots. He said he doubts an angry exchange led to the shooting beause the "way he entered was not accidental."

NATO troops incinerated Islamic religious material, including Qurans, at Bagram Airfield last week. A military official said the materials were removed from a detainee center's library because they had "extremist inscriptions" on them and there was "an appearance that these documents were being used to facilitate extremist communications."

Allen said the materials were gathered for disposal and were inadvertently given to troops for burning.

The ensuing attacks have put pressure on already strained U.S.-Afghan relations at a time when the United States is working to reduce troop levels and transition security as part of its plan to withdraw by 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that such unrest and targeting of Americans has gotten "out of hand" and needs to stop.

"There is a strong sense inside the Obama administration that the Afghans did not do enough to quell the violence," a senior U.S. official told CNN late Sunday. "We are not going to settle for what has happened to our troops in recent days."

The official has access to the latest intelligence and is involved in administration discussions but declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, maintained the Afghan security forces "are very much in this fight" and have tried to quell the demonstrations and protect U.S. installations.

Still, the official who spoke to CNN is reflecting a sentiment felt across several levels of the U.S. military about the critical lack of trust that has erupted.

The official emphasized that Allen and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta want a specific commitment from Karzai to stop the violence, as well as provide new security measures at Afghan ministries where U.S. military personnel work.

Allen has told his commanders he will not authorize the return of personnel to the ministries until those measures are in place and working, the official said.

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