Bombed CIA base controlled U.S. drones

The assailant, who killed seven, was allowed to enter the base after offering to become an informant.

Published: Friday, January 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.

The CIA base attacked by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan this week was at the heart of a covert program overseeing strikes by the agency's remote-controlled aircraft along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, officials familiar with the installation said Thursday.

The assailant, wearing an explosive belt under his clothes, was apparently allowed to enter the small base after offering to become an informant, according to two former agency officials briefed on the attack. The CIA declined to comment on the circumstances behind the incident, and it was unclear whether the bomber chose the base because of its role in supporting CIA airstrikes against top al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in the region.

The blast early Wednesday evening in eastern Khost province killed seven CIA officers and contractors, including the base chief, and seriously wounded six others in what intelligence officials described as a devastating blow to one of the agency's key intelligence hubs for counterterrorism operations. It was the deadliest single day for the agency since eight CIA officers were killed in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon.

The CIA continued drone strikes Thursday. A security official in Pakistan confirmed that two militants were killed late in the day in what was described as a missile attack by an unmanned Predator drone in Pakistan's autonomous North Waziristan region, across the border from Khost.

The officials said the missile destroyed the home of a man believed to be linked to the terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban. The CIA declined comment on the strike, and has consistently declined to acknowledge any participation in a campaign of airstrikes that killed more than 300 people in the past year.

The CIA deaths were formally acknowledged by the agency in a statement to employees Thursday by Director Leon Panetta, who said the heavy toll was a reminder of the "real danger" that confronts intelligence officers on the fronts of wars.

"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," Panetta said. "We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives - a safer America." Panetta said military doctors and nurses had saved the lives of gravely wounded officers, and he announced that flags at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va. would be flown at half-staff to honor the dead.

President Obama posted a letter to CIA employees honoring those killed, whom he called "part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life."

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