Conflict & Justice

Afghan suicide bombers strike during US official Chuck Hagel's visit


JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN - MARCH 9: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (C) arrives to speak to members of the 101st Airborne Airborne Division at Jalalabad Airfield on March 9, 2013 near the southeast of Jalalabad city, Afghanistan. Hagel is on his first official trip since being sworn in as US President Obama's Defense Secretary.



A suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry Saturday, in one of two attacks that occurred as US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the country, officials said.

Nine people died in the bombing and about 30 minutes later a second Afghan suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint in Khost, killing eight civilians, mostly children, and a policeman, CBS reported.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the morning attack at the ministry, saying it was designed to send a signal to the US defense chief.

"This attack was a message to him," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email to reporters..

More from GlobalPost: Hagel makes surprise visit to Kabul

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel was in another part of the city when the explosion occurred, attending a briefing at a US-led military coalition facility. He said the briefing continued without interruption, AP reported. 

"We're in a war zone. I've been in war, so shouldn't be surprised when a bomb goes off or there's an explosion," said Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran.

Asked what his message to the Taliban would be, he said that the US was going to continue to work with its allies to insure that the Afghan people have the ability to develop their own country and democracy.

Media commentators said the bombings were a fresh reminder that insurgents continue to fight and challenges remain as the US-led NATO force hands over the country's security to the Afghans.