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Asia-pacific

Eight US civilians killed in suicide blast 'were CIA agents'

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-31

Eight CIA agents have been killed in a suicide attack on a military base in Afghanistan’s south-eastern Khost province, US officials have announced. On the same day, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist were killed in a separate bombing.

REUTERS - Insurgents intensified their campaign against military targets and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, killing eight U.S. CIA agents at a base and four Canadian servicemen on patrol and a journalist accompanying them.

U.S. officials said the dead Americans -- killed in a suicide bombing on a military base in southeastern Khost province on Wednesday -- were CIA agents.

It was one of the highest foreign non-military death tolls in the eight-year war against the Islamist Taliban.

The four Canadians and the journalist from the Calgary Herald were killed when their armoured vehicle was hit by a bomb in southern Kandahar province on Wednesday, the Canadian Defence Ministry said.

The base in Khost province, Forward Operating Base Chapman, was engaged in reconstruction projects, a key part of U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy to stabilise the country.

Some people were wounded in the explosion, defence officials said, but no U.S. or NATO troops were among them.

Asked whether the suicide blast occurred inside the base, one official said: "That's my understanding." Another senior official confirmed the attack involved an explosive vest.

U.S. President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to stem the violence, with NATO allies also contributing thousands more.

Washington has pledged a "civilian surge", adding hundreds of U.S. experts to support work on development projects that aim to undermine support for the Taliban and other insurgents.

An Afghan army official on Wednesday said the United States had pledged $16 billion to spend on training and equipping Afghanistan's army and air force.

The blast in Kandahar, about four km (2.5 miles) outside the city, struck the Canadian patrol as it was visiting community reconstruction projects, officials said.

The journalist killed was Michelle Lang, 34, on assignment for the Canwest News Service. She was on on her fist assignment in Afghanistan and had been in the country since Dec. 11.

The attack brought Canada's military deaths in Afghanistan to 138. Canada has a 2,800-strong military mission in Afghanistan, but the mission has become increasingly unpopular at home and it is scheduled to be withdrawn at the end of 2011.

Unprecedented violence

The Taliban's armed campaign is at its bloodiest level since the militants, in power from the mid-1990s, were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

Civilian and military casualty tolls have reached record levels. Suicide attackers even targetted United Nations employees at a guesthouse in Kabul, killing five.

Many civilians working outside Kabul have retreated into army bases as the security situation has deteriorated. Bases are heavily fortified and require extensive security checks to enter.

Foreign aid agencies warned earlier this year that the shift into the military bases, and the use of military personnel to carry out development projects, risked a dangerous blurring of the boundaries between troops and civilians.

But intensified activity by the U.S.-led force has also bred resentment among Afghans, particularly as local civilians have been killed in several attacks.

Hundreds protested on Wednesday against the killing of 10 civilians, mostly teenagers, in a raid by foreign forces that NATO forces said occurred in a battle in which nine insurgents were killed.

That attack heightened tensions between President Hamid Karzai's government, under pressure since his disputed re-election last August and NATO. Karzai condemned this week's civilian deaths and ordered an investigation.

Khost is one of the areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, and most foreigners there are troops or working under military protection.

In September, a suicide bomber rammed a car into a military convoy of foreign forces there, killing one American.

Date created : 2009-12-30

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