Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Taliban 'knew of Cheney visit'
27/02/2007 12:07 - (SA)
Islamabad - A suicide attack at an Afghan air base where US vice-president Dick Cheney was staying shows that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have penetrated local intelligence agencies, analysts and officials said.
The blast early on Tuesday at Bagram air base near Kabul also highlights the increasing sophistication of the extremist outfits as they prepare for a feared spring offensive against Western troops, they said.
The day before the explosion Cheney warned President Pervez Musharraf of neighbouring Pakistan to crack down on militants regrouping in Pakistan's tribal areas to mount attacks across the border and further afield.
"This shows how much the militants have penetrated the intelligence of the Afghan security forces. It is a most shocking attack," retired Pakistani general turned analyst Talat Masood told AFP.
Cheney's visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan were unannounced and shrouded in even tighter secrecy than when US President George W Bush travelled to the two countries in March 2006.
Author Ahmed Rashid, who has written a book on the Taliban, said the bombing was a "very provocative" move by the Taliban.
"They were waiting for a high-level visit to carry out an attack. This visit, although highly secretive, was known in circles in Kabul and Islamabad," he said.
A senior Pakistani counter-terrorism official said the "sophisticated" attack "indicates the militants' preparedness and the quality of their intelligence collection in the run-up to the so-called spring offensive".
He added: "They must have had information (a) few days before that the US vice-president would be in town and stay at Bagram. This is not something you can plan with 12 hours notice."
The explosion killed 23 people, including two Americans, and delivered a propaganda blow that undercut the U.S. military and the weak Afghan government it supports.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and said Mr. Cheney was the target of the attack, news agencies reported. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claimed to be a Taliban spokesman, told the Associated Press: “We knew that Dick Cheney would be staying inside the base.” He said the bombing was carried out by Mullah Abdul Rahim.
**Cheney had been expected to meet with President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday in Kabul, 30 miles south of Bagram, after a planned meeting on Monday was canceled because of bad weather.