Insurgents intensified their campaign against military targets and Western 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. and NATO said on Thursday.
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 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 stabilize the country.
Some people were wounded in the explosion, defense 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.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for killing the eight U.S. CIA agents, saying that the attacker was a "well-dressed" officer in the Afghan army.
"This deadly attack was carried out by a valorous Afghan army member when the officials (CIA agents) were busy gaining information about the mujahideen," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an email reply to Reuters’ questions.
Meanwhile, five Canadians—four soldiers and a journalist—were killed in Afghanistan by a bomb that exploded as their armored vehicle passed by, a Canadian general announced Wednesday.
General Daniel Menard, the head of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, announced the deaths on Canadian television without naming the victims.
Public television station CBC identified the journalist killed as Michelle Lang, a reporter with the Calgary Herald, who was on her first trip to Afghanistan and was the first Canadian reporter to die in the country’s conflict.
"Yesterday Canada lost five citizens," Menard said. "Four soldiers and one journalist were killed as a result of an improvised explosive device attack on their armored vehicle during a community patrol in Kandahar City."
The soldiers were patrolling "to gather information on the pattern of life and maintain security in the area," he said.
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military mission in Afghanistan, but the mission has become increasingly unpopular at home and it is scheduled to be withdrawn at the end of 2011.
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 targeted 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.