KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan insurgents bombarded a U.S. base and destroyed a NATO helicopter, killing three Afghan intelligence employees, officials said Tuesday. There were also NATO personnel aboard and wounded, the coalition said without providing further details.
Separately, a teenage suicide bomber on Tuesday walked into a shop in western Afghanistan and blew himself up, killing five people, Afghan officials said.
The bombing and the strike at Bagram Air Field outside Kabul came as U.S. and its allied military forces marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with a tribute to the more than 3,000 foreign troops killed since the invasion of Afghanistan — including about 2,000 members of the U.S. military.
The attacks were a reminder that the Afghan war launched less than a month after 9/11 continues to rage, with insurgents waging a ceaseless campaign against the U.S.-led NATO coalition and the Afghan government.
"Eleven years on from that day there should be no doubt that our dedication to this commitment, that commitment that was seared into our souls that day so long ago, remains strong and unshaken, " said Marine Gen John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and coalition troops, at a ceremony at NATO's Kabul headquarters.
"Today we remember the victims here in Afghanistan who have suffered so horribly at the hands of al-Qaida and the Taliban and other terrorists," he said. "Perhaps more significant to all of us at this ceremony, today we remember the precious soldiers and civilians of all nations lost in Afghanistan since that day of infamy in 2001."
Allen hailed the troops fighting in Afghanistan as the "next greatest generation," a reference to those who fought in World War II.
"A generation that has been at war for 11 years, the longest war in most of our nations' modern histories. Many of you standing here today are on your second, third, fourth, and sometimes even fifth tours in this fight," Allen said.
After the short ceremony, he swore in eight members of the U.S. military, who decided to re-enlist on the anniversary of the attacks.
"I think it is a great honor to be able to re-enlist on September 11," said SFC Isaac D. Engle, 30, from Salem, Oregon. A member of the Oregon National Guard, the 10-year veteran was heading home in less than a week after serving a year in Afghanistan.
Engle, who also served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, said that the "chance to extend and serve my country and state for another three years, and the chance to do this on September 11, means more to me than I can describe."
The attack on the sprawling Bagram Air Field occurred around 10 p.m. Monday. Militants occasionally fire mortars or rockets at Bagram, but the attacks usually cause little or no damage.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Four rounds hit," coalition spokesman Army Maj. Adam Wojack said, adding that it was unclear whether they were rockets or mortars. "One of the rounds hit the helicopter and started a fire, which destroyed it."
Both Afghan and coalition forces were inside the Chinook CH47 when it was hit, Wojack said, adding that three Afghans died and an unspecified number of coalition troops were wounded. NATO policy prevented him from disclosing details about their injuries.
There were no details available on how many NATO personnel were aboard or what they were doing there. Several countries in NATO fly Chinooks.
An Afghan government official in Parwan province where the base is located confirmed that three Afghan intelligence employees were killed. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose information to the media, said two Afghan policemen were injured in the attack.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that the insurgents had fired rockets, and the strike killed nine Afghan intelligence workers and four Americans at the base. However, the insurgents often exaggerate the death toll of their attacks.
In an attack last month on Bagram, an insurgent rocket damaged a top U.S. general's plane that was parked on the tarmac. The Taliban also claimed responsibility for that attack on the C-17 transport plane, which had flown U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Bagram.
Dempsey was in his staff quarters when the rockets landed and was not hurt in the attack, but the damage to his plane forced him to use another aircraft for his ongoing flight to Iraq.
Two aircraft maintenance workers were lightly wounded by shrapnel, and a nearby helicopter was damaged.
Meanwhile, the suicide bombing Tuesday took place in Kushki Kuhna district of Herat province, said Noor Khan Nikzad, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. The province in western Afghanistan is one of the more peaceful areas of the country but it has been the scene of a rising number of attacks in recent years.
The target of the attack was Abdul Hakim, a community leader who commanded a local militia, according to Mohammad Ibrahim Kushki, the former top official in the district.
"The bomber was around 14 years old," he said. "He went to the shop, shook hands with Hakim and then blew himself up."
Associated Press Writers Deb Riechmann and Patrick Quinn in Kabul contributed to this report.