A Taliban suicide bomber penetrated Bagram Air Base, one of the most secure facilities in Afghanistan, and killed four people and wounded 17 more. The base has been the focus of high-profile Taliban and jihadist attacks in the past.
Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, confirmed the attack in a statement released earlier today. The NATO command did not say how the Taliban suicide bomber was able to breach security at Bagram. However, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said two American soldiers and two contractors were killed in the attack.
“An explosive device was detonated on Bagram Airfield today resulting in multiple casualties. Four people have died in the attack and approximately 14 were wounded,” according to the press release. On Twitter, Resolute Support later updated the number of wounded to 17.
The nationalities of those killed was not disclosed. The US and other NATO countries have forces deployed at Bagram Air Base, which is located in the central province of Parwan.
Accounts differ on who exactly was targeted inside Bagram. In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda website, the group said the suicide bomber targeted American personnel “while they were busy in taking exercise.”
According to Bagram’s district governor, “a suicide bomber entered the airbase and then detonated his suicide vest among the workers, who were getting ready to start work,” TOLONews reported.
The Taliban claimed that the attack “took four months” to plan and execute. According to the Taliban, “martyrdom seeker Mujahid – Hafiz Muhammad Parwani – had already managed to enter the airfield very tactically along with necessary toll and explosives.”
Additionally, the Taliban also claimed that “23 American soldiers including key officers have been killed and 44 others wounded as well as several internal puppets [Afghan security personnel] have been killed and wounded.” The group routinely exaggerates the number of people killed or wounded in its operations.
The Taliban has provided some clues about the organization of its so-called martyrdom units that has conducted operations such as today’s. It has identified two key leaders of its “Suicide Groups.” Mullah Taj Mir Jawad has been described as the head of a “martyrdom-seekers battalion,” while Qari Abdul Raouf Zakir, is the “commander” of the Taliban’s suicide groups. Qari Zakir, who was designated as a terrorist by the State Department in Nov. 2012, has long commanded the Haqqani Network’s suicide operations.
The Taliban and their powerful sub-group, the Haqqani Network, as well as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda, are all known to operate in Parwan province. These groups and others coordinate operations as part of what the US military used to call the Kabul Attack Network.
These jihadist groups have conducted multiple high profile attacks at Bagram over the past decade. Bagram is a high priority target for the Taliban. The base is the largest in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration has planned on keeping an estimated 5,500 troops split up between bases at Bagram, Jalalabad, Kabul, and Kandahar thru 2017.
In one of the more significant attacks, the Taliban – in conjunction with al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – launched a complex suicide assault on the airbase in May 2010. Bekkay Harrach, a senior al Qaeda leader from Germany, was among those killed during the assault.
Other recent high-profile attacks in Parwan province include the Dec. 2015 suicide bombing that killed six NATO troops as their convoy patrolled just outside of Bagram Air Base, and the July 2014 suicide bombing that killed four Czech soldiers.
Large NATO facilities in Afghanistan have been targeted by the Taliban in the past. Bases in Nangarhar, Kabul, and Helmand have been hit by high-profile Taliban attacks. In one of the most successful Taliban attacks, a suicide assault team penetrated security at Camp Bastion in Helmand province in 2012. During the attack, the Taliban killed two US Marines and destroyed 6 Harrier strike aircraft and damages two more.