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Dec 31, 2009 12:19 PM by Associated Press

CIA says 7 employees killed in Afghan attack

The Taliban claimed responsibility Thursday for infiltrating a CIA base with a suicide bomber who got into a gym and set off an explosion that killed eight Americans and an Afghan. Seven CIA employees were among the victims.

Wednesday's assault on U.S. Forward Operating Base Chapman at the edge of Khost city in eastern Afghanistan was a blow to the CIA, which had previously lost only four operatives in this country since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

It came on a bloody day for NATO forces. A roadside bombing, also claimed by the Taliban, killed four Canadian troops and a Canadian journalist in southern Afghanistan. Elsewhere, police said militants beheaded six Afghans on Thursday for cooperating with government authorities.

France also reported two French journalists and their local guides missing in Afghanistan. No further details were available on the whereabouts of the group.

Meantime, on Thursday, the United Nations said a preliminary investigation showed that a raid last weekend by foreign troops in a tense eastern Afghan province killed eight students. The attack sparked protests by Afghans against foreign troops.

Deadly gym strike
It was unclear how the suicide bomber was able to circumvent security at the U.S. base. Khost is the capital of Khost province, which borders Pakistan and is a Taliban stronghold.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that an Afghan National Army officer wearing a suicide vest entered the base and blew himself up inside the gym. A U.S. official who was briefed on Wednesday's blast also said it took place in the gym.

There was no independent confirmation that the bomber in the attack on the U.S. base was a member of the Afghan military. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said no Afghan National Army soldiers are at the base.

But an Afghan official in Khost said the U.S. has hired about 200 Afghans to help with security at the base. They are usually deployed on the outer ring of its walls, although some work inside, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

"It's not the first time that Afghan forces have conducted such an attack to kill Americans or foreigners," the Taliban statement said, citing the alleged killing of an American soldier and the wounding of two Italians this week in Badghis province. NATO has provided no details of that incident, but Afghan Gen. Jalander Shah Bahnam said an Afghan soldier opened fire on a base in the province's Bala Murghab district.

An online message posted by the Afghan Taliban said 20 CIA staff were killed and 25 other people were wounded, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based terrorist tracking organization. The Taliban routinely exaggerate claims of enemy casualties.

The U.S. official said the explosion killed eight American civilians and one Afghan, the worst loss of life for the U.S. in the country since October. Six Americans were wounded, the official said.

Harold E. Brown Jr., a State Department employee of Fairfax, Va., died in the attack, his father, Harold E. Brown Sr., told The Associated Press on Thursday. The younger Brown, 37, who grew up in Bolton, Mass., served in the Army and remained a major in the reserves. He is survived by a wife and three children ages 12, 10 and 2.

All the U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

A spokesman in Kabul for the international coalition force said no U.S. or NATO troops were killed. The attack was the deadliest for Americans since eight soldiers were killed in an insurgent attack on a base in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 3.

Only four known CIA operatives have been killed in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. CIA officer Micheal "Mike" Spann was killed in a prison uprising in November 2001. An agency officer died in a training exercise in 2003, and two contractors operating out of a CIA base in Shkin district of Paktika province were killed the same year.

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