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A suicide bomber attacked an entrance to the largest American base in Afghanistan on Tuesday morning, killing several people and causing a heightened state of alert on the base.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who was visiting the base at the time, was not near the blast site. He met with Afghan and U.S. officials in Kabul later in the day.

The suicide bomber struck one of the gates of Bagram Air Base around 10 a.m. local time. There were varying reports on the number of people killed and wounded.

The military command at Bagram said nine people were killed, including a U.S. servicemember, a coalition servicemember, a U.S. government contractor and the bomber. Later, the South Korean defense ministry identified the coalition casualty as a South Korean army sergeant. The other five victims were identified as two Afghan laborers waiting for entry to the base, and three bystanders — including a 12-year-old boy — who were brought to the base medical facility but died of their wounds.

Some 20 Afghans outside the gate were also injured in the blast, the military said.

The Associated Press and other news agencies — citing Afghan military and civilian sources — put the number of dead closer to 23, with around 20 more injured. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in figures.

Speaking to reporters later in Kabul, Cheney said he was moved for a brief period to a bomb shelter on the base.

“I heard a loud boom. The Secret Service came in and told me there had been an attack on the main gate,” Cheney said. “As the situation settled down and they had a better sense of what was going on, I went back to my room.”

Cheney left the base and headed to meetings in Kabul about 90 minutes after the attack, U.S. military officials said.

Later Tuesday, a reputed Taliban spokesman called news agencies to claim credit for the attack, saying that Cheney was the target.

When asked about the Taliban and the attack, Cheney said, “I think they clearly try to find ways to question the authority of the central government. Striking at Bagram with a suicide bomber, I suppose, is one way to do that. But it shouldn’t affect our behavior at all.”

Military officials said security at the base helped prevent more serious casualties.

“We maintain a high-level of security here at all times. Our security measures were in place and the killer never had access to the base,” said Army Lt. Col. James E. Bonner, the base operations commander. “When he realized he would not be able to get onto the base he attacked the local population.”

Bagram is home to some 5,000 U.S. troops and another 4,000 from other coalition countries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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