Blasts Rock Afghanistan as Hagel Visits

Nearly 20 people killed after defense chief arrives

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Mar 9, 2013 5:33 AM CST

(Newser) – A suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul today, one of two attacks that killed at least 18 people as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the nation. Nine people were killed in the bombing at the ministry, a fresh reminder that insurgents continue to fight as the US-led NATO force prepares to hand over the country's security to the Afghans. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was meant to send a signal to the US defense chief.

About a half hour later, another suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint in Khost, killing an Afghan policeman and eight civilians, mostly children. "We are still at war," Hagel said shortly before he arrived yesterday, the same day that three men wearing Afghan army uniforms and driving an Afghan army vehicle forced their way onto a US base in eastern Afghanistan and opened fire, killing one American contractor and wounding US troops. All three attackers were killed.

Defense chief Chuck Hagel, center, walks with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, left,  upon arrival in Kabul.
Defense chief Chuck Hagel, center, walks with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, left, upon arrival in Kabul.   (AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool)
Ambulances arrive outside the Afghan Defense Ministry in after a suicide bomber struck.
Ambulances arrive outside the Afghan Defense Ministry in after a suicide bomber struck.   (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Defense secretary Chuck Hagel speaks with the media aboard his military aircraft.
Defense secretary Chuck Hagel speaks with the media aboard his military aircraft.   (AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool)
Afghan Army soldiers stop people from advancing toward the Afghan Defense Ministry after a suicide bomber struck.
Afghan Army soldiers stop people from advancing toward the Afghan Defense Ministry after a suicide bomber struck.   (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
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