By RAHIM FAIEZ and HEIDI VOGT
A suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle near the gate of a U.S.-Afghan combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday morning, wounding 10 Afghan soldiers, officials said.
The blast in Paktiya province’s Zurmat district shattered windows on village homes three kilometers (nearly 2 miles) away but no one was killed in the attack, said provincial government spokesman Rohullah Samon.
He said it appeared the bomber detonated his car before reaching the actual gate of the camp. Many of the injured soldiers were in rooms inside the base that collapsed from the force of the explosion, Samon added.
There were no casualties among international forces at Combat Outpost Zurmat, said NATO forces spokesman Maj. Adam Wojack. He said the bombing was followed by indirect fire by mortars or rockets aimed at the base.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said that insurgents had breached the outpost’s perimeter defenses.
Wojack said he had no reports of attackers on foot and that the outpost was secured soon after the blast.
The attack appeared to be in keeping with a gradual switch in Taliban tactics to increasingly target Afghan security forces as the international coalition continues the drawdown until a planned withdrawal of combat troops in 2014.
According to latest NATO statistics, the Afghan army has grown to 184,676 soldiers, and the country’s police force now numbers 146,339 officers. The security forces are just short of the planned 352,000 troops.
NATO still has 104,000 troops _ 68,000 of them Americans _ in Afghanistan, down from nearly 140,000 last year.
However, the number of Afghans leaving the army has remained stubbornly high, with 27 percent of troops either deserting or not re-enlisting despite the higher salaries offered. And though the number of volunteers is still high, the army needs to train about 50,000 recruits each year just to compensate for the loss.
Associated Press Writer Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report from Kabul.