Cost of Empire: Seven killed in bombing near NATO headquarters in Kabul

Almost 100 more are injured in the blast in one of the most tightly secured areas in the city. The strike on the Afghan capital comes five days before nationwide elections. McCain Administration "undeterred."

(Loosely based on a report from Kabul, Afghanistan, that appeared in today's Los Angeles Times)

Insurgents struck at the main symbol of the Western military presence in Afghanistan today, killing at least seven people and injuring nearly 100 others in a massive car bombing five days before nationwide elections.

The blast, just outside the front gate of the headquarters of the NATO force, was likely aimed at deterring Afghans from voting in Thursday's presidential and provincial assembly balloting, Afghan and Western officials said. The Interior Ministry blamed "enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan."

At the summer White House in Sedona, Arizona, U.S. President John McCain expressed regret over the loss of Afghan lives. "We knew there'd be setbacks, but this doesn't mean our plan isn't working," he told reporters. "The Afghans are showing enormous courage in the face of threats and intimidations by the Taliban. We expect the elections to be a rousing affirmation of democracy."

The attack, which took place about 30 yards from the main entrance to the base, also appeared designed to signal that insurgents can strike at will even in the capital's most heavily guarded districts. The attacker or attackers, carrying a payload of about 600 pounds of high explosives, would have had to pass through several rings of security -- checkpoints, rolls of barbed wire, red-and-white-striped safety gates and concrete barriers -- to get this close to the Western military headquarters.

The street is one of the most tightly secured in all Kabul; the U.S. Embassy is next door, and the presidential palace is nearby.

In Washington, organizers of the "Stop McCain's War" march next month also expressed regret about the loss of life in Kabul. "The senseless slaughter will continue," a spokesman said, "until American troops come home." The hrefdemonstration, to take place on Sept. 21, annually designated as the International Day of Peace by the United Nations, is supported by a coalition of labor, peace and human rights groups. A number of Democratic leaders, including U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who labeled the war "a dangerous distraction," have promised to participate. Organizers say two million people will gather on the Washington Mall to hear speeches and protest the war.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), the chair of the House Armed Services committee continues to block consideration of a motion advanced by a majority of the Strategic Forces subcommittee calling for hearings on whether drones being used in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are alleged to have caused numerous civilian deaths, violate international rules of war. "We won't second guess commanders on the ground," he said. Replied Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the subcommittee chair, "At the very least, the use of drones seems contrary to our effort to win the hearts and minds of people in the region."

In Kabul, NATO's International Security Assistance force said in a statement that several soldiers had been hurt in the bombing, Macedonian fightersbut did not give their nationalities or say where they were stationed at the time. However, the gate is usually guarded by a small contingent of Macedonian soldiers who are relatively exposed to the street.

Police initially said the vehicle into which the explosives were packed was a sport-utility vehicle of the type commonly driven by civilian contractors who frequent the base, but determined later the bomb was in a Toyota station wagon, and the SUV had been close by.

The main part of the base, which is headquarters to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of all U.S. and Western forces in Afghanistan, lies a considerable distance from the front gate, beyond more concrete barriers and a maze-like pedestrian entrance. Aides did not immediately confirm whether the general was on base at the time.

As with many such attacks on official installations, the brunt of the explosion was taken by Afghan civilians: employees at the nearby Ministry of Transportation, who were just beginning their workweek, and shopkeepers in a row of nearby small establishments. A small group of Afghan street boys usually congregates at the gate, begging for change from foreigners coming and going on foot.

"I always felt safe here, with so much security -- checkpoints everywhere," said 25-year-old Ahmad, who works at the offices of a charity about 100 yards from the blast site and did not want his last name used. He and other workers were eating breakfast when the blast blew out the heavy plate-glass windows.

The attack was the worst in the capital since February, when insurgents staged near-simultaneous attacks on three government buildings. Those gun-and-bomb strikes left more than two dozen people dead, including passersby and eight assailants.

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry put the toll in today's attack at seven dead and 91 wounded, and said 16 Afghan soldiers and a female member of Parliament, Hawa Alam Nuristani, were among those injured.

Afghan officials for weeks have been urging people to defy Taliban threats and go to the polls on Thursday. President Hamid Karzai told supporters at a rally last week they should vote "even if a hundred bombs explode."

The McCain administration and the Western military are heavily invested in a successful vote, which they hope will enhance the legitimacy of the central government and bolster efforts to increase Afghanistan's self-sufficiency in security matters, allowing for an eventual exit of foreign forces. President McCain has called the balloting the most important event of the year in Afghanistan.

Violence has increased markedly around the country in recent weeks, but most of it has been concentrated in the south, the traditional Taliban heartland and the center of the lucrative drug trade. U.S. Marines and British forces have spent much of the summer fighting bloody battles in Helmand, taking the highest casualties of the nearly 8-year-old conflict.

Military officials have expressed hopes that confronting the Taliban in Helmand would encourage Afghans to come out and vote, but the sometimes-intense fighting has instead prompted many people to flee their homes. Insurgents in some areas have threatened to cut off the fingers of those whose digits are stained with the indelible ink that proves a person has voted.

Today's blast could be heard across much of the capital. It scorched walls, downed tree limbs, gutted several parked cars, shattered windows hundreds of yards away and sent a plume of smoke billowing into the air.

Frightened civilians, some bleeding from their wounds, fled on foot. Passersby stopped cars and even motorcycles to ferry wounded people to hospitals.

International forces swiftly set up a cordon of armored vehicles manned by British, French and other troops, and Afghan police waved traffic away.

A Taliban spokesman made a call to the Associated Press claiming responsibility for the attack, but initially said -- mistakenly -- that the bomber was on foot. Suspicion also fell on the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based insurgent group that is believed to have carried out some of the most sophisticated and lethal attacks in and around the capital.

More: BBC coverage of suicide bomb near Nato's Kabul headquarters.

[The foregoing, based on an article in today's Los Angeles Times, is not meant to denigrate the Times or its coverage, but to raise questions about the decision by the Obama administration to bog down the U.S in the senseless, unending quagmire in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The quotes attributed to John McCain, Ike Skelton and Jim Langevin are either made up or mis-attributed; the quote from Sen. Obama is accurate but wildly out of context, the context being his campaign promise that he would be "taking the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Although there was a quick response from the imaginary McCain White House, 18 hours after the event it does not appear that the real administration wants to draw further attention to the setback by making a comment.

Apparently there were 1,100 pounds of explosives, not the 600 pounds of the earliest reports. So much for security.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” John Kerry famously asked. Will the Democrats, who know better, stop funding these adventures or will they continue to remain quiet about this mistake? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in the Middle East? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for oil?]

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