June 18, 2013
Suicide bomber kills nine Afghans in Kabul during Hagel visit
A suicide bomber blew himself up at a Defence Ministry gate in Kabul killing nine civilians during a visit to Afghanistan by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, underlining the insurgent threat as NATO troops prepare to leave.
Hagel was nowhere near the explosion, said a spokesman for Afghanistan's NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). A US defence official said Hagel was in a safe location at an ISAF facility.
An Afghan Defence Ministry official said at least nine people, all civilians, were killed. Fourteen people were wounded in the attack, carried out by an insurgent on a bicycle.
Roads around the ministry building, which is near the presidential palace, were closed as emergency officials cleared the area of debris and washed blood from the street. A wall surrounding the ministry was pockmarked with shrapnel.
The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the ministry was the target. They said in a statement the attack "is a kind of message" for Hagel.
The blast underscored the security challenges facing Afghanistan as US-led NATO forces prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014.
Some Afghans fear that another civil war could erupt or the Taliban will make a push to take control of the country again after Western combat troops withdraw.
In the eastern province of Khost, a suicide bomber attacked a joint Afghan and foreign patrol, killing seven civilians and a policeman, the provincial governor's office said in a statement.
After the blast in Kabul, the Defence Secretary flew to Bagram Air Base near Kabul for meetings with commanders.
Hagel, who arrived in Afghanistan on Friday for his first trip abroad as Defence Secretary, is due to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai, whose recent orders to curtail US military activity highlights an often tense relationship with the 66,000 American forces here.