Camp Chapman attack
Camp Chapman attack Location Khost Province, Afghanistan Date December 30, 2009 Target CIA facility Attack type Suicide bombing Death(s) 10 (including the attacker) Injured 6 Suspected perpetrator(s) Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda
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2009 refugee crisis in Pakistan
The Camp Chapman attack was a suicide attack against Forward Operating Base Chapman, a key facility of the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan, on December 30, 2009. The base is located near the eastern Afghan city of Khost, in a stronghold of the Taliban movement. One of the main tasks of the CIA operatives stationed at the base was to provide information for drone attacks against targets in Pakistan. Seven CIA operatives, including the chief of the base, and an officer of Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate were killed, and six others were seriously wounded when the attacker detonated a bomb he was carrying. The bombing was the most lethal attack against the CIA in more than 25 years. Only the 1983 United States embassy bombing surpasses the Chapman attack in number of CIA officers killed.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, and western intelligence officials identified the attacker as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor. While the CIA thought that al-Balawi would be an important informant who could help the intelligence agency to capture top leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, he actually was loyal to insurgents fighting against the U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan. The attack took place as the CIA expanded its role in the Afghanistan War, increasing paramilitary operations, including drone attacks in Pakistan, and building a number of bases in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan.
The U.S. then requested that Pakistan arrest and extradite an insurgency leader, and intensified drone attacks in the northern area of Pakistan. The U.S. military then issued new security guidances to its bases in Afghanistan. The CIA and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the attack. U.S. President Barack Obama praised the CIA officers who died in the bombing, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack. All seven of the operatives killed in the attack were memorialized with a star on the agency's Memorial Wall at its headquarters.
- 1 Execution of the attack
- 1.1 Responsibility
- 1.2 Attacker
- 1.3 Casualties
- 2 Background
- 3 U.S. reaction
- 4 Political reactions and commentary
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Execution of the attack
On December 30, 2009, a suicide bomber who was later identified as a double agent loyal to Islamist extremists attacked Forward Operating Base Chapman. As he had already made a number of visits to the base, the attacker was considered trusted enough by base security not to be searched on arrival at the gate. It was not until he was standing just outside a building well within the compound that he was about to be searched, whereupon he detonated explosives attached to his body. The attack happened in the early evening, and locals recount hearing an explosion at the base at about 4:30 pm.
The fortified base is located about 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of Khost city, the provincial capital of the eastern Afghan province of Khost, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border. The area is a stronghold of the Taliban movement. Seven people employed by or affiliated with the CIA, including the chief of the base and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed and six others seriously wounded in the attack. Some of those killed had already approached the bomber to search him, whereas others killed were standing some 50 feet (15 m) away. The base's security director, an Afghan named Arghawan who had driven the attacker into the base, survived the initial blast, but died when a U.S. soldier shot him, assuming that he was a participant in the attack.
As a result of the bombing, the facility was rendered inoperative pending the arrival of a new team of CIA officers. After the attack, it was locked down and 150 mostly Afghan workers at the base were temporarily detained. The attack, one of the worst blows ever to the U.S. intelligence community and the most lethal attack against the CIA in more than 25 years, was a major setback for the intelligence agency's operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, it was the second largest single-day loss of the agency, after the 1983 United States Embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. The incident also suggested that al-Qaeda may not be as weakened as previously thought.
There was considerable confusion after the attack about the motivations of the attacker and the source of its support. It was not clear whether conflicting claims of responsibility indicated that Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, and al-Qaeda were working independently from each other. U.S. officials said that their investigators have yet to determine which of the groups organized the attack. They believed that the Haqqani network, which operates in the region, actively assisted the bombing. Michael Scheuer, a former head of the CIA's Bin Laden Issue Station, said that it would be inconceivable that the attack could have been carried out without the knowledge of the Haqqani network. Former CIA officials said that Osama bin Laden's inner circle would have helped plan the attack.
A video released in the days after the attack showed al-Balawi stating that he was carrying out the attack in response to the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who was killed by a U.S. drone in August last year. The CIA launched more than 50 drone attacks in 2009, compared to more than 30 in 2008, according to an ABC News tally. The CIA officials based at Forward Operating Base Chapman were at the center of the drone campaign, according to intelligence officials, and they were looking for informants to help them find senior al Qaeda and Haqqani leaders.
Conflicting claims of Taliban groups
Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that the attack would have been carried out by a Taliban sympathizer in the Afghan National Army. The "well dressed" official would have been of sufficiently high rank to walk past security at the base. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed the responsibility for the attack and said that they would have used a turncoat CIA informant to carry it out. Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for the attack, and stated that the attack would avenge the killings of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike in August 2009, and of "al Qaeda's Abdullah." The identity of the man referred to by Mehsud as Abdullah was unclear.
Mujahid gave the name of the attacker as "Samiullah", while Mehsud stated: "The suicide bomber was a Jordanian national. This will be admitted by the CIA and the Jordanian government." The Jordanian government denied any connection with the operation and described the report as baseless. Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, said that it would be extremely difficult for a foreigner to acquire the necessary cultural assimilation to gain access in the tribal region. The Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are separate movements, though links exist between the two. The claims of responsibility from the different Taliban groups may have been both complementary and competitive, as they seek to attract financial support, analysts said.
Video released by Tehrik-i-Taliban
On January 9, 2010, the Pakistani television network AAJ TV showed a video that had been released by the Tehrik-i-Taliban. The video showed Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the attacker, vowing to avenge the death of the Pakistan Taliban leadership. "We will never forget the blood of our emir, Baitullah Mehsud. We will always demand revenge for him inside America and outside," declared Mr. al-Balawi, a Jordanian double agent, sitting beside Hakimullah Mehsud. Hakimullah Mehsud replaced Baitullah Mehsud as the chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban after Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a U.S. drone attack. Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud are from the same tribe, but not from the same family. Al-Balawi's father confirmed that the video showed his son.
Text that appears in the video is written in Urdu language, suggesting that those in charge of editing the video were Pakistani and not associated with al Qaeda, whose videos display Arabic writing. Analysts said that, in return for organizational support, al-Balawi probably agreed to appear in the video, and to connect the attack he was planning to the death of Baitullah Mehsud, thus raising the profile of the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Most analysts believe, however, that al Qaeda chose the CIA as the target and ran the operation.
Al-Qaeda also praised the attack. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, stated that the attack was intended to avenge the deaths of three al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders who were killed in U.S. drone attacks. "He avenged our prime martyrs, and as he wrote in his final testament, may God have mercy on him: Taking revenge for the leader the Amir Beitullah Mehsud and the leaders Abu Saleh al-Somali and Abdallah Said al-Libi and their brothers, may God have mercy on them," al-Yazid wrote. Baitullah Mehsud was the former head of the Pakistani Taliban, Saleh al-Somali was in charge of al-Qaeda operations outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Said al-Libi was a senior Libyan member of the group, and the leader of al-Qaeda's military organization in the region, the Lashkar al-Zil. Observers disagreed whether the message was actually claiming responsibility for the attack.
Jordanian double agent
According to Western intelligence officials, the attacker was a Jordanian doctor and a double agent loyal to Islamist extremists. They identified the perpetrator as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, 32, an al-Qaeda sympathizer from the town of Zarqa, the hometown of Jordanian militant Islamist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He was married and had two daughters. An Afghan security official gave the name of the bomber, who also used the alias Abu Dujana al-Khurasani, as "Hamman Khalil Abu Mallal al-Balawi". Hajj Yacoub, a self-proclaimed spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, identified the bomber as "Hamman Khalil Mohammed". Islamist websites, as well as some newspapers, characterized the attacker as a triple agent, an agent who is believed to be a double agent by the intelligence organization he infiltrates. U.S. officials said it was still not clear whom al-Balawi was working with.
al-Balawi had a history of supporting violent islamist causes. According to people who monitor extremist websites, he was an administrator and a well-known contributor for al-Hesbah, an online forum run by Islamist extremists. He also ran his own Islamist blog. He had been arrested by Jordanian intelligence more than a year ago and was believed to have been transformed into a double agent loyal to the U.S. and to Jordan. According to a former U.S. official and a Jordanian official, during Balawi's questioning, Jordanian intelligence officials threatened to have him jailed and end his medical career, and they hinted they could cause problems for his family. The former U.S. official said that Balawi was told that if he traveled to Pakistan and infiltrated radical groups there, his slate would be wiped clean and his family left alone. The CIA took over the management of Balawi from the Jordanians sometime in the second half of 2009, dictating how and when the informant would meet his handlers, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officers.
Meeting at Forward Operating Base Chapman
According to intelligence officials, al-Balawi has been invited to Forward Operating Base Chapman after claiming to have information related to senior al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Jazeera sources in Afghanistan said that al-Balawi had been brought to the base by car, from across the border in Pakistan. A U.S. federal law enforcement official said the bomber apparently entered the base by car. He also characterized the explosion that killed the intelligence operatives as a "significant" blast set off as agents gathered outside a gymnasium at the compound.
The attacker was not closely searched because of his perceived value as someone who could infiltrate the ranks of senior al-Qaeda leaders. A former U.S. counterterrorism officer, as well as Jordanian government officials, said that he had already provided useful and actionable intelligence to the CIA over several weeks of undercover work in the region. A former intelligence official stated that al-Balawi was "feeding us low-level operatives and we were whacking them." He was seen by the CIA and the U.S. administration as the U.S. agency's best hope of tracking down the al-Qaeda leadership. The CIA had come to trust the informant, and the Jordanian spy agency vouched for him, according to officials. According to Western government officials, the bomber had been recruited by Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate and taken to Afghanistan. Ali bin Zeid, the Jordanian intelligence officer who died in the attack, was the intelligence handler of al-Balawi and the liaison between him and the CIA.
At least 13 officers were present at the base's gym to talk with the informant, and the CIA flew in a special debriefer from Kabul, suggesting that he was highly valued. Former intelligence officials say the attacker's prior visits and his ability to get so close to such a large number of officers suggested that he had given valuable intelligence to the agency before. The CIA was "expecting the meeting to be of such substance that following the meeting their next directive was to call President Obama," a security official in Kabul said.
However, it remained unclear why the attacker was not searched, as would be standard protocol even for visiting dignitaries, and why so many people were present for the debriefing. For both the safety of agents and for the protection of the identities of both the informants and the officers, debriefings are generally conducted with two or three people present. ABC News reported that al-Balawi had been to Forward Operating Base Chapman previously, and that CIA officers would have told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. On January 5, U.S. officials stated that the suicide bomber had never been to Forward Operating Base Chapman or met with any CIA operatives before the attack, adding to the confusion surrounding the event.
Jordanian intelligence officials were deeply embarrassed by the incident due to the fact that they had brought the informant to the Americans. Jordan's government was embarrassed as well, as it did not want the extent of its cooperation with the CIA to be known. The Jordanian intelligence service is one of the CIA's closest allies in the Middle East, and one of its most professional and trusted partners. At the same time, the U.S., and the CIA in particular, are viewed with deep disfavor in Jordan. While Jordan's Prime Minister Samir Rifai defended the country's cooperation with the CIA against terrorists outside the country, articles in local Jordanian newspapers argued that Jordan's defense against Al-Qaeda should be confined to the country's borders. Several analysts were called by Jordanian officials and told not to make "inflammatory" statements. At least one local journalist working with the foreign media was hauled in for questioning.
Jordanian government officials, while acknowledging that al-Balawi was a Jordanian doctor, insisted that there was no proof that the suicide bomber was a Jordanian. They pointed to contradictory reports, including a statement from Afghan Taliban that claimed the attacker was an Afghan. Minister of State for Information Affairs and Communication Nabil Sharif said that the Jordanian government had no means to verify the allegation that the suicide bomber was Jordanian. A Jordanian official living abroad said that al-Balawi would not have been a double agent, and stated he was a sometime contact of the Jordanian intelligence who had no formal role as an intelligence officer. Jordan's pro-American government has gone to great lengths to conceal its connection with the attack. For Jordan, the cooperation between the CIA and the Jordanian intelligence service is a clandestine relationship it would much prefer to have kept secret. The idea that Jordanian intelligence officers are working hand-in-glove with the CIA would be deeply resented by many in Jordan.
The news magazine TIME reported that senior Jordanian intelligence sources said al-Balawi had not been a double agent working for al-Qaeda all along. After he had initially been turned, they said, he had been a useful intelligence asset. They speculated that his outrage at the high number of civilian casualties inflicted in the resulting strikes may have been the factor that prompted him to switch sides again. A senior Jordanian official said that Jordan's intelligence services did not send al-Balawi to Pakistan, and that he went there of his own volition.
Statements from relatives
In a Jordan interview, family members of al-Balawi said that he had been pressured to become an informant after Jordanian authorities arrested him. His brother said that al-Balawi's actions were out of character, and that al-Balawi would have been under severe pressure after he had got called in and interrogated. He said al-Balawi had been "changed" by the 2008–09 Israeli offensive in Gaza, and that he had been arrested by Jordanian authorities after volunteering with medical organizations to treat wounded Palestinians in Gaza. He added: "If you catch a cat and put it in a corner, she will jump on you." Al-Balawi's father said he was called by an Afghan who told him his son died as a hero in an operation to kill CIA agents. He also said his son "sacrificed his body and soul for the oppressed." He blamed the intelligence agencies for turning al-Balawi "from a human, a doctor, to a person with a heart full of negative and hostile emotions towards others." His mother said her son was not like how he is being described in the media, and not extremist at all. Al-Balawi's family is of Palestinian origin, from a tribe in the Beersheba region.
Al-Balawi's wife, Defne Bayrak, a journalist who lives in Istanbul, Turkey who has translated, among other texts, a book entitled "Osama bin Laden: Che Guevara of the East," said she doubted that al-Balawi worked as a double agent for the CIA and Jordan's intelligence agency, or that he was an al-Qaeda member. Shortly before the attack, he would have told her that he would return to Turkey to continue his medicine studies. She said that if al-Balawi was the attacker, he would have acted of his own volition, and added that al-Balawi regarded the United States as an adversary, and that she would be proud of her husband. She commented that, in her view, al-Balawi had carried out a "very important mission in such a war."
Jordanian authorities cautioned the relatives of al-Balawi against speaking with anyone about the incident. Members of the family said that Jordan security forces had sealed off the area in which they live, blocking journalists from entering. Turkish police questioned and released al-Balawi's wife on January 7, 2010.
Initial reports suggested that the attacker was a soldier of the Afghan army or a local informant who had been invited the base for debriefing.
In the days after the attack, Qari Hussain, a military leader of the Pakistani Taliban, said that an agent trained by the CIA had contacted the insurgents and would have been willing to attack the U.S. intelligence operation. The Afghan Defense Ministry said that claims that the suicide bomber was an Afghan army officer were baseless, that no Afghan soldier were involved and that none were stationed at the base. A spokesman for NATO forces, as well as a U.S. military official, however, acknowledged that Afghan security forces were working there. An Afghan official said that the U.S. employed about 200 Afghans at the base.
A person close to the base's security director said that the attacker would have been a member of the Wazir tribe from the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan, and a regular CIA informant who had visited Forward Operating Base Chapman multiple times before. According to the same source, the base's security chief, an Afghan, drove the informant from the Afghan-Pakistan border to the base, and the informant was not searched, as he was accompanied by the official. It was a "high-level asset meeting gone bad," said a former intelligence official who is familiar with the incident.
U.S. intelligence and military officials said the attacker detonated his charge shorty before being searched. According to NATO officials, he wore an Afghan National Army uniform and reached an area near the base's gym. A Western official said the attacker might have been able to pass through several layers of security with the help of an Afghan intermediary who arranged the meeting. Two former intelligence officials said the base is a center for recruiting and debriefing informants, and it would not be unusual for local Afghans to be admitted to the facility for questioning.
Fatalities, not including the suicide bomber Name Affiliation and position Age Jennifer Lynne Matthews CIA officer, chief of base 45 Harold Brown Jr CIA officer 37 Elizabeth Hanson CIA officer 30 Darren LaBonte CIA officer 35 Scott Michael Roberson CIA officer 39 Dane Clark Paresi Blackwater Worldwide (Xe) 46 Jeremy Wise Blackwater Worldwide (Xe) 35 Al Shareef Ali bin Zeid Jordanian intelligence official Undisclosed Arghawan Security director at the base Undisclosed
Not including the attacker, nine people were killed and six others were seriously wounded in the attack. Seven of the dead were affiliated with the CIA, among them were four staff officers, including the chief of the base, and three contracted security guards working for the spy agency. The operatives worked for multiple divisions of the agency, including the clandestine service and agency security. A Jordanian military intelligence officer, Al Shareef Ali bin Zeid, a cousin of King Abdullah II of Jordan, and the base's security director, an Afghan named Arghawan, were also killed in the attack. Arghawan survived the initial blast, but a U.S. soldier shot him in the head, assuming that he was a participant in the attack. On January 9, 2010, ABC News reported that eleven people were killed in the attack.
CIA officers who had traveled from Kabul to the base for the meeting, including, according to sources familiar with the incident, the deputy chief of the CIA's Kabul station, were among those injured. The deputy chief of the Kabul station is in grave condition at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a U.S. military hospital in Germany, according to several intelligence officials.
The operatives stationed at the base were responsible for intelligence collection on insurgents' networks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the selection of al-Qaeda and Taliban target for drone aircraft strikes, and were also plotting missions to kill the networks' top leaders. CIA bases on the Afghan-Pakistan border gather intelligence in both countries and are in contact with local operatives.
CIA employees and contractors
Citing the sensitivity of their mission, the CIA initially did not release the names of those killed in the attack, many of whom were seasoned hands in the agency's counterterrorism operations. All officers were working as undercover agents. U.S. officials said the dead included five of the CIA's leading experts on al-Qaeda. The chief of the base, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, 45, a mother of three, started tracking al-Qaeda before the September 11 attacks. She had a history in counterterrorism dating back to the agency's Bin Laden Issue Station.
Some of the names of those who died in the attack have been disclosed in local media. The dead included: Elizabeth Hanson, 30, who held an economics major from Colby College in Maine, and was an Illinois native; Harold Brown, 37, a resident of Washington, D.C.; Ohio native Scott Roberson, 39, a CIA security officer, according to his sister; former U.S. Navy SEAL Jeremy Wise, 35, and Dane Paresi, 46, of Dupont, Washington state. Wise and Paresi were security contractors working for Xe, a security company formerly known as Blackwater. ABC News reported, however, that their role was not to provide security for the base, according to a source familiar with Xe's contracts. While the CIA had appeared to distance itself from the firm in recent years, the reports about the contractors pointed to a continued close relationship between the agency and the company.
Among the dead was Al Shareef Ali bin Zeid, a senior officer of Jordan's General Intelligence Department (GID). Bin Zeid was a first cousin to King Abdullah II of Jordan and a grandnephew of King Abdullah I of Jordan. He was, according to Jordanian press reports, the intelligence handler of the attacker. Bin Zeid's wake was held in the Royal Palace. King Abdullah II and Queen Rania attended his funeral. Official Jordanian news reports said that he died while performing humanitarian service in Afghanistan. His death shed light on the U.S.-Jordanian intelligence partnership, which is rarely acknowledged publicly, yet seen by U.S. officials as highly important for their counterterrorism strategy.
Initially, eight U.S. citizens were believed to have died in the attack, and a U.S. defense official said that all of the dead would be civilians, not U.S. or NATO troops. Hours after the attack on the base, the official number of intelligence operatives killed in the bombing was revised, and instead of eight deaths, the CIA acknowledged only seven. The eighth person killed was later identified as Bin Zeid, the officer of the Jordanian intelligence service.
The attack took place as the CIA expanded its role in the Afghanistan War, increasing paramilitary operations, including drone attacks in Pakistan, and building a number of bases in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan.
The drone attacks carried out by the U.S. military in Pakistan rely on local informants, who can cross the border into Pakistan in a way CIA officers cannot. CIA officers at the base were involved in the coordination, targeting and surveillance of drone strikes aimed at the Taliban. At the time of the attack, they were conducting an aggressive campaign against the Haqqani network, a radical group run by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and were aiming at the Tehrik-i-Taliban group in particular.
The Haqqani network, one of the CIA's most important assets during Operation Cyclone in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, operates on both sides of the porous border shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan and is believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda. Jalaluddin Haqqani is widely believed to maintain ties with Pakistan's security and intelligence establishment as well. The Haqqani family has migrated from Khost Province to North Waziristan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. It has focused on attacking U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, rather than targeting Pakistan.
Members of the Haqqani network have occasionally cooperated with the Pakistani Taliban in the past. "At times they send suicide attackers to our area, and we give them shelter and find targets for them," a former commander of the group said. The network has carried out numerous attacks with growing sophistication in Khost Province, where the attack on the CIA facility took place.
At the time of the attack, disputes over counterterrorism strategies between the U.S. and Pakistan, including the issue of how to treat the Haqqani network, were increasing. An Afghan official hinted that the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's intelligence agency, had been involved in providing explosives for the attack.
Afghanistan's government suspected that the attack was a revenge attack organized by the network. A Pentagon consultant, an ex-Afghan official who has worked at the base with the CIA, and a counterterror official of the CIA expressed similar views, and one U.S. military official stated that the U.S. had indications pointing in that direction. Pakistani officials played down the likelihood that the Haqqani network organized the attack, and cautioned against jumping to conclusions. Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, said that these suspicions would arise because "the United States government has really taken upon itself [...] to degrade the Haqqani network", while Pakistan has "demurred, if not outright refused, to take action against" it.
The attack came at a time when disputes over civilian casualties between the U.S. and Afghanistan, and over counterterrorism strategies between the U.S. and Pakistan, were increasing. Confirmation that the Haqqani network was responsible for the bombing could put additional strains on relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, which has rejected U.S. calls to deny safe havens to the network. Pakistan's security officials have warned against an escalation of the U.S. drone attacks in the country. A senior Pakistani security official urged the United States to coordinate its response to the suicide attack with the Pakistani government, in order to avoid "unnecessary and further friction" to the alliance of both countries, while a U.S. State Department official said that the U.S. counterterrorist efforts "are coordinated with foreign governments, including with Pakistan, as needed."
The United States and Pakistan differ over which Islamist fighters to target. Pakistan sees Haqqani, who had long-standing links with its military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, as likely to be a valuable asset in Afghanistan if U.S. troops leave, as Islamabad anticipates, before the country is stabilised.
According to an article that was published on the website The Daily Beast on January 11, 2010, the "chemical fingerprint" of the explosives used in the attack would match the kind produced by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). According to the article, "early evidence" in the December 30 bombing suggested a link to Pakistan, and the chemical fingerprint of the bomb matches an explosive type used by ISI. "It is not possible that the Jordanian double agent received that type of explosive without the help of ISI. The problem is that CIA trusted a Jordanian, but not the Afghan operatives we offer to them. If the U.S. forces recruit, they must recruit Afghans who do not have family members in Pakistan", the website quoted an anonymous senior government aide to Afghanistan President Karzai.
Forward Operating Base Chapman
Forward Operating Base Chapman is located at the site of a former Afghan army installation. It is situated in the vicinity of Camp Salerno, a large military base used by U.S. special operations forces. The base is named for Sergeant First Class Nathan Chapman, the first U.S. soldier killed by enemy fire during the Afghanistan war, in 2002. Chapman was killed while fighting alongside the CIA.
The CIA's base in Khost was set up at the beginning of the U.S.-led offensive against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001, and began as an improvised center for operations. A military base at the beginning, it was later transformed into a CIA base, a U.S. official said. According to a U.S. military source, Forward Operating Base Chapman was also used as a base for the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team, a military-led development group. According to a CNN report, this team left some time ago, however, the Wall Street Journal reports that the base still houses the team, as well as a small military contingent. In recent years, the base, one of the most secretive and highly guarded locations in Afghanistan, evolved into a major counterterrorism hub of the CIA's paramilitary Special Activities Division, used for joint operation with CIA, military special operations forces and Afghan allies, and had a housing compound for U.S. intelligence officers.
U.S. bases in Khost, in particular Camp Salerno, have frequently been targeted by insurgents. In most cases, however, suicide attackers do not succeed in getting past the main entrance of a base. According to U.S. officials, Forward Operating Base Chapman appears to have implemented less stringent security measures that other U.S. military bases, aiming at establishing trust with informants. Subjecting informants to mistrust and excessive suspicion would reduce the amount of information received from them.
The U.S. has requested Pakistan arrest and extradite a leader of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, an insurgency organization, and has intensified drone attacks in the northern area of Pakistan. The U.S. has also issued a new security guidance to its bases in Afghanistan. The CIA and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating the incident. An unidentified U.S. intelligence official has vowed that the CIA will avenge the deaths of the officers through aggressive counterterror operations.
Arrest and extradition request
The Pakistani newspaper The News reported that U.S. authorities have sought from Pakistan's government an early arrest and extradition of Ilyas Kashmiri, the fugitive chief of the Azad Kashmir chapter of the pro-Kashmir Jihadi group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. Kashmiri is being accused of coordinating the attack against Forward Operating Base Chapman. Ilyas Kashmiri was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone attack in the North Waziristan area in September 2009 along with Nazimuddin Zalalov, a top al-Qaeda leader. However, Kashmiri resurfaced three weeks later and promised retribution against the United States and its allies.
A senior interior ministry official said Pakistani authorities are already seeking to arrest Ilyas Kashmiri for his involvement in several terrorist activities carried out within Pakistan. Ilyas Kashmiri is the Number 4 on the "Most Wanted" list of the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, and a veteran of the Kashmir insurgency. He joined hands with Baitullah Mehsud to establish a training camp in North Waziristan.
Drone attacks in North Waziristan
The United States have responded to the attack by increasing its drone attacks against militants in Pakistan. Nearly every day after the CIA facility was attacked, the U.S. military conducted drone strikes aimed at leaders of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. In the week after the attack, the U.S. military conducted five drone strikes, an unusually high number. However, U.S. counterterrorism officials cautioned against linking these attacks to the bombing. After reports of attacks, Pakistan said it would not support the drone attacks in its territory, as they were counterproductive.
In March 2010, the death of Hussein al-Yemeni in a drone attack was announced. Al-Yemeni was called a planner involved in the bomb attack.
Investigations and security measures
According to an intelligence official, the CIA is conducting an investigation into how the suicide bomber managed to avoid the base's security measures. Afghan authorities have distanced themselves from the investigation, insisting that nobody employed by any Afghan ministry would have been involved in the attack. It is expected that the CIA will reassess both its security measures and its procedures for the recruitment of informants. A team of FBI agents, which flew to the facility soon after the incident to investigate the attack, is trying to identify the components of the explosives that have been used and whether they included shrapnel.
U.S. officials said that the CIA is also conducting a review of intelligence supplied by al-Balawi, examining whether he supplied false information about U.S. successes amid valid data used to establish his credibility. The investigation includes a review of a list of senior al Qaeda and Taliban operatives reported killed in U.S. drone strikes since January 2009. The National Counterterrorism Center is conducting its own review of the intelligence al-Balawi provided, two officials said.
Following the attack, the U.S. has issued new security guidance to its bases in Afghanistan, according to U.S. military officials. One U.S. military official said the guidance would adjust procedures as quickly as possible on a large scale.
Political reactions and commentary
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the CIA officers who died in the bombing, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack. At least five, and possibly all seven, of the operatives killed in the attack will be memorialized with a star on the agency's Memorial Wall at its headquarters. Several members of the United States Intelligence Community, as well as observers from other countries, highlighted the significance of the attack both for the CIA and for the ongoing U.S. war in Afghanistan.
White House and Congress
Obama stated that the intelligence agency had been "tested as never before", and that its agents had "served on the front lines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century." "Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated," he wrote in a letter addressed to the agency's employees. Obama said that the dead will be remembered on the CIA's Memorial Wall in the lobby of the agency's headquarters. CIA members who have been killed in the execution of their work are eligible to an anonymous star on the agency's memorial wall. The chairs of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued statements of condolescence.
In a message to CIA employees, CIA Director Leon Panetta said of the dead: "Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism. We owe them our deepest gratitude." Flags at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, flew at half-staff. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, sent an internal, classified message in which he expressed his condolences. In an article published by the Washington Post, Leon Panetta strongly defended the CIA officers against criticism, and disputed that lax security measures or blind trust in the informant enabled the attacker to succeed.
The attack was praised by Islamist militants after it became known that Balawi was the author under a pen name of some of the anti-Western commentaries that they admired. One militant wrote, referring to al-Balawis online pen name: "Our James Bond, who is he? // He is Abu Dujana! // His motto: Let me die or live free! // Our James Bond, what did he seek? // Not power or money, // But justice for the weak."
Expert and media commentary
Several former intelligence officials described the attack as emotionally distressing for the spy agency. Former CIA deputy director John E. McLaughlin said: "It is the nightmare we've been anticipating since we went into Afghanistan and Iraq." Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, characterized the assault as a serious reversal in NATO's war efforts. Former CIA Counterterrorism Chief Robert Grenier described the attack as the Taliban equivalent of a precision guided weapon. "This attack is something that will never be forgotten in Langley, Virginia," said Jack Rice, who formerly worked as a CIA officer in Afghanistan.
Henry A. Crumpton, a former Coordinator for Counterterrorism who directed the CIA operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, said that the CIA employees were experienced frontline officers whose expertise would not be easily regenerated. A NATO official in Afghanistan underscored the significance of the attack, and noted that it had shut down a key station of the CIA in Afghanistan. "These were not people who wrote things down in the computer or in notebooks. It was all in their heads," he said, adding that much of the knowledge would not be recoverable. Several current and former intelligence officials, however, said that the CIA had numerous operatives with experience in Afghanistan, as the country was considered strategic during the Cold War, and because the U.S. has been involved in active warfare there for the last eight years.
A U.S. intelligence official said the danger of using informants would be inherent but unavoidable. Intelligence agencies would have to rely on unsavory individuals to penetrate terrorist groups because no one else had the access. Those hazards would be neither denied nor ignored by the CIA officers. Former intelligence officials said they were deeply troubled about al-Balawi's ability to surround himself with the CIA officers. A former agency case officer expressed surprise that "a potential hostile" was able to be in immediate proximity to a large number of CIA operatives. "It's incredibly regrettable, the loss of life, but I have never heard of anything as unprofessional. There's an old infantry rule: Don't bunch up." "Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision," said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan. Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer and counter terrorism agent, said that a source supposedly as significant as al-Balawi should never have been brought inside the base, because it risked exposing him.
Another CIA official, who defended the agency, cautioned against reaching premature conclusions and said there were people talking about things they had no knowledge about. Robert Baer, a former CIA officer, said that the agency would be outsourcing intelligence and would have to go to the Jordanians "because we simply cannot, as blond haired blue eyed Americans, cannot get into these camps." He said the attack would make the CIA more reluctant to engage with informants. He added that the attack would have been a huge setback for the CIA's intelligence collection in Afghanistan. "You're talking about an institutional nightmare," said Tim Weiner, author of the book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Former 9/11 Commission chairman Lee H. Hamilton predicted that the attack would forever change how the CIA handles informants. "They will never forget this lesson," he said.
Capabilities of the perpetrators
Talat Masood, a Pakistani security analyst and former general, said that the attack would have shown the Taliban were getting good cooperation from within the local poputation. Richard A. Clarke, a former chief counter-terrorism advisor on the U.S. National Security Council, said that running double agents against the CIA represented a huge increase in sophistication for a non-nation state enemy such as the Haqqani network.
Gary Berntsen, a CIA officer, commented: "In the old days when we were running Russian operations, if you had a double agent the worst that happened was he feeds you false information. These days if you have a double agent he detonates in your face." The threat posed by al Qaeda would now be much greater than it was on 9/11, Michael Scheuer, a former chief of the CIA's Bin Laden Issue Station, said. "Double-agent operations are really complex. The fact that they can pull this off shows that they are not really on the run," one former CIA official commented.
David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of the book Body of Lies, opined that the CIA had become careless out of desperation. According to Ignatius, it would be obvious that the CIA would have been so eager to acquire knowledge about the location of Osama bin Laden that it would take every available opportunity to get information. Shoshana Bryen, a U.S. security expert, said that the bombing would make Israel and the U.S. wary in their future dealings with Jordan.
William Saletan noted the mischaracterization of the attack as "an act of terrorism" in many media reports. As terrorism targets civilians, and the CIA employees were conducting a war, he states that the bombing was clearly "an act of war. It was also espionage. But it wasn't terrorism."
Media reports and commentary
Media reports said the attack struck at the heart of the United States' covert operations in the region, with some characterizing it as the CIA's Pearl Harbor. The attack was considered to be especially worrying because the bomber managed to breach security assigned to potentially sensitive operations. The Times of London wrote that the bombing had heightened tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, because Pakistan had not taken action against the Haqqani network. It also raised doubts about the reliability of the Afghan forces that are being trained by the United States and its allies, and on the practicality of Western exit strategies that involve training the Afghan army and policy with the aim of enabling them to fight the Taliban on their own.
- CIA activities in Afghanistan
- Drone attacks in Pakistan
- Special Activities Division
- Coalition casualties in Afghanistan
- Forward operating base
- Nathan Chapman
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- Message from U.S. President Barack Obama to the CIA workforce
- Statement by CIA Director Leon Panetta on CIA casualties in Afghanistan
- Article written by CIA Director Leon Panetta (Washington Post)
- Video released by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (BBC)
- Statement attributed to Afghan Taliban leader Zabiullah Mujahid
- Reconstructing the CIA bombing (Washington Post)
- Source: Tape exists of CIA bomb attack (MSNBC)
- CIA Workers Killed in Afghanistan (ABC News)
- Pakistan Blast Sharpens Concerns on Taliban (PBS)
- Discerning the CIA's role in Afghanistan (MSNBC)
- The many faces of the double agent CIA bomber (Al Jazeera)
Analysis and further reading
- Interview with Michael Scheuer, former CIA Bin Laden Unit chief (C-SPAN)
- A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (CTC Sentinel)
- Zafar Bangash: US pushing Pakistan into the abyss of oblivion
- Double agents: The peril and the promise (Reuters)
- F.M. Begoum: Observations on the Double Agent
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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