Dick Cheney made an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan after a stop in Pakistan to tell Pervez Musharraf that the US needs him to fight the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces organizing in Pakistani territory. As if to underscore that message, a suicide bomber attacked Bagram while Cheney visited, killing 10 people outside the base but leaving Cheney unharmed:
A suicide bomber killed up to 10 people outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan in an attack aimed at visiting Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday, but Cheney was not hurt in the blast.
An American soldier and a South Korean who was part of the U.S.-led coalition were killed, as was a U.S. government contractor whose nationality was unknown, officials said. NATO put the toll at four, including the bomber, and 27 wounded. Local police said 10 people died.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the bomber knew Cheney was visiting the sprawling Bagram Airbase, about 60 km (40 miles) from Kabul. "We wanted to target ... Cheney," Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.
Soon after the blast, Cheney went ahead with planned talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital, Kabul.
The Taliban could not have done more to prove the US case to Pervez Musharraf. Cheney's presence during the attack will put even more pressure on the beleaguered Pakistani leader.
The Bush administration sent Cheney along with high-level intelligence officers in order to conduct a presentation of the evidence we have collected of terrorist activity in Waziristan. Reportedly, we identified locations and support networks for al-Qaeda and the Taliban forces that will conduct their spring offensive in the coming weeks. Identification of these sites makes it very difficult for Musharraf to shrug off our warning, as does the high level of the visit. It's the final warning to get something done, or suffer us getting it done for him.
In fact, that point may already have been crossed. With the Taliban taking responsibility for the attack and with Cheney as its target, the US may determine that those camps present a clear and present danger to the US. That would allow President Bush to launch an attack on the camps even though they are in Pakistani territory. That move would be constitutional and necessarily limited, and since it targets al-Qaeda, would likely generate little dissent from Congress. I'd expect some members of the new Congressional leadership to ask why we hadn't attacked them before this assassination attempt.
Cheney remained in Afghanistan after the attack to meet with Hamid Karzai, who was likely to have emphasized the continuing and growing threat in Waziristan, and the lack of Pakistani cooperation in reducing it. Karzai can scratch that issue from the agenda at this point. Cheney and the US understand it clearly now, if they didn't before, and we have made it clear to Musharraf that the clock is ticking faster than ever.