A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at a military base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing eight American civilians, U.S. officials said.
The explosion occurred at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province near the Afghan border with Pakistan.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly confirmed that eight Americans died in the attack.
“We mourn the loss of life in this attack, and are withholding further details pending notification of next of kin,” he said.
A senior State Department official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that all of the victims are civilians. However, that could include military contractors and U.S. intelligence officials.
In Kabul, a spokesman for the international coalition force in Kabul said no U.S. or NATO troops were killed in the afternoon explosion at Chapman, one of dozens of forward operating bases that support reconstruction efforts and other civilian operations across the nation.
An attacker wearing a suicide vest caused the explosion, according to a senior U.S. official in Washington. Another senior U.S. official in Washington said there were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, but that others were injured in the attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because not all details about the incident had been confirmed.
Wazir Pacha, a police spokesman in Khost province, said local people reported hearing a blast on the base where an explosion in January killed an Afghan civilian and wounded four others. Soon afterward, two helicopters landed, a police officer in Khost said.
Separately on Wednesday, NATO questioned Afghan reports that international troops killed 10 civilians, including schoolchildren, in a weekend attack that prompted hundreds of angry Afghan protesters to burn an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama and chant “death” to America.
The head of an investigative team appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the Associated Press by telephone that eight students between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house in a remote section of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. NATO said in a statement released late Wednesday night that while there was no direct evidence to substantiate the claims, the international force had requested and welcomed a joint investigation to reach an “impartial and accurate determination” of what happened in the attack.
Conflicting accounts of what occurred during fighting in Kunar's Narang district prompted an emotional outcry over civilian deaths, one of the most sensitive issues for international troops fighting the more than eight-year-old war. Although insurgents are responsible for the deaths of far more civilians, those blamed on coalition forces spark the most resentment and undermine the fight against militants. With 37,000 more U.S. and NATO troops being deployed to the battle zone, concern over civilian casualties is unlikely to ease anytime soon.
Several hundred Afghans demonstrated in the capital of Kabul and in the eastern city of Jalalabad where the likeness of Obama, adorned with a small American flag, burned on a pole held above demonstrators.
In Kabul, protesters carried signs that read: “Does peacekeeping mean killing children?” and “Stop killing us.” A protester with a bullhorn called on Obama to “take your soldiers out of Afghanistan.”
Qari Hamidullah, a student protest leader in Jalalabad, urged the Afghan government to call for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
“If they do not accept our demand, we will put down our pens, take rockets and go to the mountains to fight the Americans and their forces,” Hamidullah told protesters, who chanted and waved their arms in the air.