KABUL, Afghanistan – The massive Taliban truck bomb that exploded outside an American military base in a restive eastern district injured nearly 80 U.S. troops and killed five Afghans, Western and Afghan officials said Sunday.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place Saturday evening in the Sayed Abad district of Wardak province. That is the same district where insurgents last month shot down a U.S. Chinook helicopter, killing 30 American troops, the majority of them Navy SEALs, including some from the unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden.
The Chinook crash, which remains under investigation, was the worst single loss of American military lives in the nearly decade-long war.
Although no Americans died in Saturday’s blast, it appeared to be one of the biggest casualty counts in an insurgent strike on a Western military installation. The bombing also carried symbolic weight, coming on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Wardak provincial governor, said the blast devastated the Sayed Abad district center, damaging a number of government buildings, including a medical facility. An 8-year-old girl and a policeman were among the five Afghans killed. Seventeen Afghans were injured, he said.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said in a statement that the outpost’s perimeter wall was damaged in the attack, but that “protective barriers … absorbed most of the explosion.”
Western military officials said the injuries of most of the 77 troops who were hurt were not life-threatening.
The Taliban said in a statement that a “martyrdom-seeking” attacker blew up a truck packed with explosives just outside the base. The group, which often exaggerates the effectiveness of its attacks, claimed that as many as 50 U.S. troops were killed.
Hours after the attack, a solemn ceremony was held at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sunday morning to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S. Before an audience of several hundred embassy employees, military officials and Afghan dignitaries, the American flag was lowered to half-staff and a lone bugle sounded taps.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who flew into New York as the attacks were taking place, said he kept his boarding pass from his flight that day.
“For me, the last 10 years have always been about 9/11,” he said before the crowd observed a moment of silence. “I’m never going to forget what happened that day, and I will never give up on my commitment to doing everything I can to ensure that 9/11 never happens again.”