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Taliban targets Cheney in Afghan suicide blast

A Taliban suicide bomber killed 12 people at the main US military base in Kabul.

world Updated:

A Taliban suicide bomber killed up to 12 people at the main US military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday in an attack the rebels said was aimed at Dick Cheney, but the visiting US vice president was not hurt.

An American and South Korea soldier were killed, as well as a US government contractor whose nationality was unknown, NATO and Korean officials said. NATO said 27 people were wounded.

An agency photographer at the scene at Bagram Airbase, 60 km north of Kabul, saw eight bodies in addition to NATO's tally of four dead, putting the toll at 12.

"We wanted to target ... Cheney," Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.

Soon after the blast, Cheney -- who officials say was never in danger from the blast at the sprawling base -- went ahead with talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital.

The meeting had been scheduled for Monday, but was delayed when Cheney was snowed in at Bagram soon after arriving from Islamabad on a visit shrouded in secrecy because of security.

Karzai and Cheney met one-on-one for 45-50 minutes at the presidential palace in Kabul -- longer than the planned 30 minutes -- before an expanded meeting with staff and advisers

The pair made no comment after the meeting and Cheney flew out for Oman aboard a military C-17 Globemaster named "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond" after the staunch conservative politician.

His visit came as Washington said al Qaeda and its Taliban allies were regrouping on Pakistan and Afghan soil.

The United States has 27,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, where it says defeating the Taliban is vital for its own security.

Last year was the bloodiest since the US-led forces ousted the Taliban's Islamist government in 2001 for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden in the wake of September 11.

Bolstered by money from record opium crops and safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban have vowed a spring offensive -- including an increase in suicide attacks -- as the snows melt in coming weeks.

Suicide attacks, virtually unheard of until 2005 when there were 21, jumped to 139 last year.

With the upsurge in fighting expected, Britain on Monday said it would send another 1,400 troops to Afghanistan

In Pakistan, Cheney had pressed President Pervez Musharraf to do more about the Taliban and other militants using its territory for shelter and training.

Citing U.S. officials, ABC News reported CIA deputy director Stephen Kappes had also shown Musharraf "compelling" CIA evidence of al Qaeda's resurgence on Pakistani soil.

The CIA evidence was said to include surveillance satellite photos pinpointing the locations of several new al Qaeda camps in the Pakistani border province of Waziristan, ABC reported.