Taliban suicide attack on US base in Afghanistan over leaflet ‘insult’

Afghanistan's National Army soldiers guard, blocking the main road to the Bagram Airfield's main gate in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. An explosion at a U.S. airfield in Afghanistan early Saturday killed four people, the head of international forces in the country said. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

Kabul: A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle blew himself up outside an American base in Afghanistan today, Afghan officials said, in an attack the Taliban claimed was revenge for a US leaflet deemed highly offensive to Muslims. US and Afghan authorities confirmed several people were wounded in the late afternoon attack at Bagram Airfield, America’s largest base in the country.

The Taliban claimed responsibility and said it was in retaliation for “their insult to the Islamic creed”. A spokeswoman for the Parwan provincial governor said “a suicide attacker on a motorbike detonated himself at the third gate of Bagram airbase”. “The attacker was riding a motorcycle. Three wounded can be confirmed,” said Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. NATO’s Resolute Support mission said in a statement that “an explosion” had occurred “outside an entry control point” to Bagram that had caused a “small number of casualties”.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the attacker had killed and wounded “over 20 soldiers”. The incident came hours after US forces apologised for dropping leaflets in the northern province of Parwan, where Bagram is located, that allegedly depicted a lion chasing a white dog — the same colour as the Taliban’s flag. The Islamic statement of faith — “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is the messenger of Allah” — was superimposed on the dog’s body. Dogs are seen as unclean creatures by some Muslims and the association of Islam with a canine in deeply religious Afghanistan has angered many people. “Take back your freedom from these dogs. Help the security forces eliminate these enemies. Take back your freedom and ensure your security,” the leaflet says.

NATO forces frequently drop leaflets over large swathes of Afghanistan in an effort to persuade locals against supporting insurgents. Social media users condemned the disrespectful design on the leaflets. “Death to infidels, death to their servants,” one user posted on Facebook. Another wrote: “They do this in a country with a 99.9% Muslim population. We will see how the (insurgents)… react.” Major General James Linder, who heads the US and NATO special operations forces in Afghanistan, issued a statement apologising for the leaflet design which he said was an “error”.

Hassiba Efat, a member of the Parwan provincial council, told a news agency: “The leaflets are very offensive to Islam”. “The people in the villages are angry about it but so far we have had no reports of any demonstrations. “They (foreign forces) have apologised and promised to collect as many of the leaflets as possible.” It is not the first time US forces have caused offense in Afghanistan where they have spent the last 16 years waging war against the Taliban. In 2012 US troops set fire to copies of the Koran, sparking days of protests in which about 40 people died.