A June 1 attack on a U.S. outpost near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was much worse than originally disclosed by the military as insurgents pounded the base with a truck bomb, killing two Americans and seriously wounding about three dozen troops, officials acknowledged Saturday.
U.S. and Afghan military officials said they killed 14 insurgents, many of whom were wearing suicide vests.
The scale of the attack and the extent of the U.S. casualties’ contrast with the official description presented by coalition forces on the day of the assault. In a clipped, one-paragraph news release on June 1, the military said U.S. and Afghan forces “successfully repelled the attack and secured the base.”
The statement did not report any casualties, nor that there was a truck bomb.
“It was a very huge explosion,” said Daoud Khan Makeen, head of the provincial council in Khost. He said that houses as far as two miles away were damaged in the blast and that 20 Afghans were wounded, many of them by collapsed buildings.
Although the public was kept in the dark about the details, Obama administration officials seized on the incident afterward as the latest example of how Pakistan is allowing insurgents to use its territory to plan attacks, causing another international row between Washington and Islamabad, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
U.S. officials also blamed Pakistan for not taking stronger action against the Haqqani network, which they said was responsible for organizing and carrying out the attack.
Citing the attack on Salerno and pent-up frustration over years of similar assaults, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta harshly criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on the Haqqanis. “We are reaching the limits of our patience,” he said June 7 while in Kabul, a day after he slammed Pakistan as an untrustworthy partner during a visit to its archenemy, India.
“Secretary Panetta — along with other senior U.S. officials — has had serious long-standing concerns about the Haqqanis,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. “Of course he was disturbed by this recent attack, which reinforced the fact that even more intense pressure needs to be applied against the network.”
The official said most of the 100 service members who suffered minor injuries returned to duty that same day.
U.S. officials said Saturday that an American contractor also later died of wounds suffered in the attack, but they declined to provide an identification.
U.S. officials said they were assessing security at Salerno in the aftermath of the truck bombing.
Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said that at all coalition bases, from the headquarters in Kabul to the smallest combat outpost, “protection is taken very seriously.”
Salerno is a relatively large base in the mountains near the Pakistani border, named after the town where Allied troops made amphibious landings during their 1943 invasion of the Italian mainland during World War II.
The Haqqanis have repeatedly tried to overrun the Salerno base in recent years, and it is a frequent target of rocket attacks. In August 2008, insurgents were beaten back during an assault on the camp’s perimeter that lasted two days. Two years later, about three dozen Haqqani fighters were killed during a similar attack on Salerno and a nearby installation, Forward Operating Base Chapman.