U.S. contractor killed, 9 soldiers wounded in Taliban attack on Bagram air base

Map locates Bagram airfield which was attacked by the Taliban
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- The Taliban's brazen assault against the heavily fortified, city-size Bagram air base Wednesday demonstrated again the insurgents' penchant for headline-grabbing strikes at the most potent symbols of foreign power in Afghanistan.

The attack before dawn, with gunfire, rockets and grenades, killed one U.S. contractor and wounded nine American soldiers. The U.S. soldiers at the base responded by killing 10 insurgents, including four wearing suicide vests.

It was the second ambitious attack in as many days, and possibly a demonstration of the new offensive the Taliban promised this month. As the U.S. military sends thousands of new troops to the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban vowed to respond by targeting Afghan officials, contractors and NATO forces.

On Tuesday, a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. convoy in Kabul, killing five U.S. troops, a Canadian and at least a dozen Afghan civilians. The attack, coupled with the death of two American troops in separate bombings, pushed the U.S. death toll past 1,000 for the nine-year Afghan war.

The attack at Bagram involved 20 to 30 insurgents and began before 4 a.m., U.S. military officials said. None of them breached the perimeter, but gun battles continued for several hours.

The Associated Press reported that the attackers wore uniforms that appeared to match those of U.S. or NATO troops. A U.S. military spokesman said the tactic "wouldn't be uncommon" but could not confirm that it happened in this case.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for both major attacks this week. Fighting usually tapers off in the cold winter months and then accelerates in the spring and summer. American military officials have been expecting an increase in violence in response to their troop build-up and because of the season.

But the choice of Bagram as a target surprised many people. Insurgents tend to avoid confronting American military might head-on. The airfield, expanded from an old Soviet military base, houses thousands of U.S. troops, the headquarters of the military operation for eastern Afghanistan and the primary U.S.-run detention center. Insurgents have fired rockets at the base in the past, but the assault was "not something that commonly happens quite in this way," said Army Master Sgt. Tom Clementson, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram.

"That's a dog chasing a school bus. You don't attack Bagram with 20 guys," one U.S. official said. "Either they're crazy or brave or both."

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

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