Six Americans have been killed and three other people injured in a Taliban suicide attack near Bagram airbase in that coincided with a fierce militant offensive to capture a key district in the country’s south.
US secretary of defense Ash Carter confirmed Monday that all of the dead were members of US armed services. “We are still learning all of the details, but two other service members and a US contractor were also injured,” Carter said.
“They died after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on their patrol outside Bagram airbase. It serves as a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan.”
A Nato spokesman said the attack happened at about 1.30pm local time in the vicinity of the airbase, which is the biggest facility in Afghanistan.
Local Afghan officials said a suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a joint US-Afghan patrol as they were patrolling on foot through the village of Bajawryan. A member of the provincial council said a similar suicide attack against foreign soldiers based at Bagram about two months ago had failed to cause any casualties.
Attaullah, a resident of Bajawryan village, said he passed the patrol on his way home five minutes before the attack.
“I heard a huge blast and turned my head,” he said. “I saw a lot of smoke. I heard some alarms and vehicles, and saw helicopters landed in the rice field. They carried the bodies and injured into the helicopters,” he said.
Secretary Carter said in a statement: “As I saw firsthand during my visit to Afghanistan last Friday, our troops are working diligently alongside our Afghan partners to build a brighter future for the Afghan people. Their dedicated efforts will continue despite this tragic event. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of these brave Americans who died in service to this vital mission, and our thoughts remain with all of our troops serving overseas during this holiday season so that we may have peace and security at home.”
In an emailed statement, the claimed responsibility. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed said the suicide bomber, purportedly named Zahidullah, had been observing the foreign forces in the area and had struck at a suitable time.
Mujahed, who claimed 19 soldiers had been killed and a number wounded, also said the attack was part of the Taliban’s , or “Resolve”, fighting campaign, launched in the spring. The Taliban are known to exaggerate casualties of their attacks.
The police chief of Parwan province said three Afghan police had been wounded in the attack. He said he was not authorised to give details on foreign troop casualties.
Bagram, about 25 miles to the north of the capital, Kabul, is one of the main bases for the 9,800 US troops left in Afghanistan after international troops ended combat operations last year.
The largest international military base in Afghanistan, it has been targeted in several attacks this year. In September, a Georgian soldier was killed in an insurgent attack on the base and in June, a US civilian working at the base was killed in what the defence department termed an “indirect fire incident”.
Monday’s attack – the deadliest on foreign troops in Afghanistan since August – comes just over a week after suicide attacks in the south and , underlining the Taliban’s ability to hit high-profile targets linked to the US-backed government.
Meanwhile Taliban forces in Helmand as they tightened their grip on the volatile southern province.
The encroachment on Sangin follows a months-long offensive in which the have taken, and in some cases held, crucial Helmand districts.
Early on Monday morning the Taliban stormed police headquarters in Sangin, a western official with knowledge of the province said, citing local sources. An airstrike, probably by forces, prevented the militants from taking the administrative centre.
On Sunday, Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, made an unusual plea to the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.
“I know that bringing up this issue on social media will make you very angry,” Rasoolyar wrote on Facebook. “But … Helmand stands on the brink. Ninety men have been killed in Gereshk and Sangin districts in the last two days.”
Government officials contradicted each other about events on the ground. Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, denied on Twitter that Sangin had been captured but later deleted the tweet.
In a press conference on Monday morning, Helmand’s governor said the main security buildings in Sangin were under government control, as did an Afghan army spokesman.