(AFP) – Jan 7, 2010
KABUL — Al-Qaeda hailed the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA agents in Afghanistan as "revenge" for the deaths of top militants in US drone strikes in Pakistan, Islamist websites said on Thursday.
A Jordanian doctor said to have been a triple agent blew himself up at a US military base in Khost near the Pakistani border on December 30, the deadliest attack against the CIA since 1983.
The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility a day later. A Pakistani Taliban commander subsequently claimed his faction carried out the attack to avenge the drone attacks that killed its founder, Baitullah Mehsud, last August.
The head of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, said the bomber wrote in his will that the attack was revenge for "our righteous martyrs" and named several top militants killed in drone attacks in Pakistan.
Yazid described bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi's mission as an "epic breakthrough" in penetrating both American and Jordanian intelligence, said Islamist websites.
The slain militant masterminds named in the message included Mehsud, who was blamed for a wave of deadly attacks, notably the December 2007 killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Also named was Abu Saleh al-Somali, described as part of Al-Qaeda's core leadership and responsible for plotting attacks in Europe and the United States. He was killed in a drone strike near the Afghan border last month.
US media described the US base in Khost as a key "anti-terror" facility that oversaw the drone strikes targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban on the Pakistani border and as a centre for recruiting and debriefing informants.
Balawi blew himself up at Forward Operating Base Chapman during a meeting with the CIA, killing seven agents and his Jordanian handler, who was a senior intelligence officer and member of the royal family.
Jihadist websites have said Balawi was a triple agent who duped Western intelligence services for months before turning on his handlers.
The Jordanian intelligence services, believing the bomber to be their double agent, reportedly took him to eastern Afghanistan with the mission of finding Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Al-Qaeda statement surfaced after another round of US strikes killed 13 militants, including four foreigners, in North Waziristan on Wednesday.
Washington has made Pakistan a front line in the war on Al-Qaeda and the eight-year conflict against the Taliban in Afghanistan, pinning success on dismantling militant sanctuaries along the porous border.
US Senator John McCain, visiting Afghanistan on Thursday, praised the drone attacks for knocking "Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups off balance".
"I think it should continue. I think it's an important tool in our overall strategy and we can claim measurable success in carrying out those operations," he told reporters.
Strikes by unmanned US spy planes have soared since President Barack Obama took office. They have killed more than 650 people since August 2008, inflamed anti-Americanism and prompted extremists to vow revenge.
"Drone attacks are radicalising other people who may not have supported the Taliban," Rahimullah Yusufzai, a tribal affairs expert, told AFP.
"Maybe local militants (targeted by drones) are not a big threat to America but in the future they could become a threat as they could see America as their big enemy," he added.
Although the Pakistani government, which depends on US assistance, officially opposes the operations, public criticism has lessened considerably since Mehsud was killed and analysts say they have Islamabad's tacit approval.
Intelligence experts said it was possible the base let its guard down in searching the bomber because he was a coveted informant.
It was the deadliest incident for the CIA since 1983, when eight agency employees were killed by Islamist militants who bombed the US Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans and 58 French.
The United States is increasingly reliant on the CIA and other covert forces to pursue its strategic goals.
CIA and special forces were at the forefront of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that overthrew the Taliban's extremist regime after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
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