Jordanian doctor al-Balawi, who carried out the bombing at FOB Chapman
The suicide bomb attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday that killed seven CIA officers (including the female station chief), a Jordanian intelligence officer, and wounded six others was an eloquent and bloody response by Islamist militants based in Pakistan to recent drone attacks in North Waziristan.
The attacker managed to get into the base's gym where a meeting was in progress. One report from AP says a senior CIA debriefer attended the meeting, specifically to meet an agent. The CIA officers based in the camp were part of a unit that collated information and tasked drones used to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters in Pakistan.
The AP report said that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Qari Hussein, known as a trainer of suicide bombers, claimed in interview on Friday to the agency that his organisation had been approached by a CIA-trained turncoat who said he was willing to attack his erstwhile colleagues:
"Thank God that we then trained him and sent him to the Khost air base. The one who was their own man, he succeeded in getting his target," Hussain told an AP reporter who travelled to see him in South Waziristan.
Yesterday US President Obama wrote to the CIA to offer his condolences: "In recent years", he said, "the CIA has been tested as never before. Since our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, you have served on the frontlines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century. Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our Allies and partners have been more secure. Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated. Indeed, I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work because I rely on it every day."
It was the worst loss of life for the CIA since eight of its officers were killed in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983. Four others have been killed in Afghanistan since 9/11.
The attack on FOB Chapman is most likely connected with three recent CIA drone attacks launched on targets associated with Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose forces control territory almost directly over the border in North Waziristan. The first strike took place on Thursday 17 December and killed two insurgents as they travelled in a vehicle in the village of Dosali.
A second attack on the same day saw five drones fire as many as ten missiles into a compound in the village of Degan, killing at least 15 people including a senior al-Qaeda figure and seven foreigners. The large number of drones and missiles suggest that the CIA, which operates the drones, believed there was a very senior figure present.
The third attack, on 18 Dec, killed at least three militants and injured others.
The significance of these attacks is that they were against the Haqqanis, who are regarded by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, as an asset. The Haqqanis receive both arms and finance from the ISI. Pakistan has refused to extend its present military campaign against Islamist militants in South Waziristan into North Waziristan because the relationship with the Haqqani network is regarded as being of strategic importance.
However, this relationship is becoming increasingly problematic for the Americans and the attack on FOB Chapman will undoubtedly have major consequences.
If Qari Hussein's claim is true, it is possible it was carried out on behalf of the Haqqani network. The Haqqanis are acting as hosts to many TTP militants who have been driven out of South Waziristan by the Pakistan Army offensive and this may have been a way of repaying their hospitality.
Update: Various sources are now reporting that the bomber was a Jordanian doctor and double agent, recruited a year ago in Jordan to provide information on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda No2, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Named as Hummam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, it appears he turned on his handlers, who included a Jordanian intelligence officer, Ali bin Zaid, who was the eighth person killed in the explosion - and also a member of the Jordanian Royal family. Qari Hussein's claim may still be true, even though the Afghan Taliban have also claimed responsibility for the operation.