Published: March 10. 2013 4:00AM PST
An Afghan Army soldier takes up position outside the Afghan Defense Ministry after a suicide bomber on bicycle struck. Another suicide bombing, plus a host of looming disagreements with the Afghan president, on Saturday cast a shadow over Chuck Hagel’s first visit to Afghanistan since taking over as defense secretary.
Eight children were among the 19 Afghans killed in the suicide attacks, one in Kabul and the other in eastern Khost province. A U.S. contractor was killed and four soldiers injured when attackers thought to be Afghan soldiers stormed their base and opened fire Friday, just hours before Hagel arrived. “This attack was a message to him," a Taliban spokesman said in an email to reporters.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, was standing by a demand that U.S. special operations forces leave a province neighboring Kabul by Monday. Hagel told reporters he thought he could resolve the special operations issue with face-to-face meetings with Karzai today.
Also Saturday, the promised American transfer of the Bagram Prison to Afghan control collapsed once again amid misunderstandings and recriminations. The ceremony and the transfer of the last of nearly 4,000 Afghan prisoners from U.S. to Afghan custody was called off by the U.S. military commander at the last minute late Friday after President Hamid Karzai the day before rejected several provisions in the transfer agreement. Bagram is the only American-run prison for the long-term detention of suspected insurgents in Afghanistan.
Hagel, who was not in danger Saturday, said he could hear the explosion during a meeting in Kabul. “We’re in a war zone. … You shouldn’t be surprised when a bomb goes off," he said.
The Associated Press