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Bagram Attack: Bomber Kills 4 At U.S. Air Base In Afghanistan


Bagram Air Base, outside Kabul, Afghanistan, is among the most tightly secured military facilities in the world. Even so, yesterday, a man armed with a suicide bomb found a way into the base, detonated that bomb and killed four Americans. The Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack.

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins me now in the studio to talk about this.

Hi, Tom.


MARTIN: What more can you tell us about how this happened?

BOWMAN: Well, Rachel, what we're hearing from officials, both U.S. and Afghan, is that the suicide bomber somehow was able to get through security at the base. He detonated his vest on the main road, right on a sidewalk, near a group that was preparing for some sort of a fun run, a short race. Now, as you say, the Taliban has taken credit for this attack and said it was being planned for the past four months. A local governor, by the way, said this suicide bomber was part of a group of local workers, a detail, heading into the base.

So they're still investigating. We don't know exactly what happened. And the attack left two American service members dead, two American contractors dead, and another 16 Americans were wounded along with a Polish soldier.

MARTIN: Any idea about the condition of the wounded?

BOWMAN: Well, officials I spoke with just a little while ago say five people were treated and returned to duty so, obviously, very light wounds. The remaining 12 were flown to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. It's a military hospital that provides a higher level of care. Now, there's a very good military hospital at Bagram. I was there just back in June. And the fact that these people were flown to Germany means that some were...

MARTIN: Serious, yeah.

BOWMAN: ...Pretty seriously wounded, yeah.

MARTIN: So you have been to Bagram numerous times, Tom. Describe just how hard it is to get through all the security. I mean, this is a really big deal. This is a big security breach.

BOWMAN: Yeah, Yeah. This - you have to go through multiple levels of security. You have to show an ID, pass through metal detectors, full body scans, kind of like the ones you see at airports.

And, now, I usually fly into Bagram on military aircraft. But over the years, there've been times when I've, you know, driven up from Kabul. And I would have a hard time getting in. I would show my ID, my passport. And I would end up having to call someone and have - they'd come back down to the gate and pick me up.

MARTIN: So this means this had to have been some kind of an inside job. And how disconcerting is that?

BOWMAN: Well, there are thousands of U.S. and NATO troops up there so this is very disconcerting. This has never happened before. And - so they're trying to figure out what happened. You know, it could be that there was some insider help here. Maybe bomb components got in, and they assembled it. It could be that someone was radicalized.

This has happened in the past with Afghan soldiers where they're carefully vetted. But they go home for a while. They're radicalized by the Taliban, or the Taliban threatens them - basically saying, listen, unless you kill Americans, we're going to kill your family. So they're investigating. We don't have the answers right yet. But clearly, there was a problem at that gate. That shouldn't - this should not have happened.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Bowman.

Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.