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Afghanistan war: Suicide attack highlights Taliban reach

The suicide attack was one of the most ambitious of the war, killing seven CIA employees and one Afghan on Wednesday. The attack occurred in Khost Province, near the Pakistan border.

By Jonathon Burch and Sayed SalahuddinReuters / December 31, 2009

Canadian soldiers patrol in the southern city of Kandahar December 31, 2009. Five Canadians – four soldiers and a journalist – were killed when their armored vehicle was hit by a bomb in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, the Canadian Defence Ministry said.

Nadeem/REUTERS

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Kabul, Afghanistan

A suicide bomber penetrated a foreign Army base in Afghanistan and killed seven CIA employees on Wednesday, one of the US agency’s largest death tolls, while four Canadian troops and a journalist died in a separate attack.

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The suicide attack was one of the most ambitious of the war, highlighting the insurgency’s reach and coordination at a time when violence has reached its highest levels since the overthrow of the Taliban regime by US-backed Afghan forces in 2001.

The Taliban claimed the attacker as a sympathizer from the Afghan Army who detonated a vest of explosives at a meeting with CIA workers. A spokesman for NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said Afghan security forces were working on the base.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said seven CIA employees and one Afghan had been killed in the attack. Officials had initially said eight CIA employees were killed.

"This deadly attack was carried out by a valorous Afghan Army member," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said no Afghan soldiers were involved in the attack and said none were stationed at the site of the attack in southeastern Khost Province.

But if the bomber does prove to be from the Army, it would mark the second deadly attack in three days on foreign troops and officials by the soldiers they are meant to be mentoring.

A string of such killings have cast a shadow over Western plans to bolster the Afghan Army and police to allow them to eventually bring their own troops back home.
President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 extra troops to tackle the violence and NATO allies are contributing thousands more, but Obama has also said he hopes to start scaling back by 2011. An Afghan Army official said on Wednesday that Washington had pledged $16 billion to train the Army and Air Force.

US officials said the dead Americans were CIA employees but declined to comment on the attacker’s nationality or status.

The CIA has been expanding its presence in the country, stepping up strikes against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, although its role has been criticized by rights groups and Afghans.

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