CAIRO, Egypt - A top Taliban commander said al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was behind the February attack outside a U.S. military base in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Cheney, according to an interview shown yesterday by Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
Bin Laden planned and supervised the attack that killed 23 people outside the Bagram base while Cheney was there, said Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's main military commander in southern Afghanistan who has had close associations with al-Qaeda.
"You may remember the martyr operation inside the Bagram base, which targeted a senior U.S. official. . . . That operation was the result of his wise planning," Dadullah told Al-Jazeera, referring to bin Laden. "He planned that operation and guided us through it."
He did not say how he knew bin Laden planned the attack, and it was not clear when the interview took place.
Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was "an interesting claim, but . . . I haven't seen any intelligence that would support that."
A U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because, said al-Qaeda would likely have used more than a single explosion outside the base's main gate if it were targeting Cheney.
In addition, the official said, it takes bin Laden significant time to communicate from where he is believed to be hiding. That would not offer him the flexibility to order an attack on Cheney, whose stop at Bagram was kept secret in advance, the official said.
The U.S. military had said previously it was unclear whether the Taliban knew about Cheney's visit or whether the timing of the attack was a coincidence.
The Feb. 27 bombing killed 20 Afghan civilians, a U.S. soldier, a U.S. contract worker, and a South Korean soldier outside Bagram while Cheney met with officials inside the base. The Taliban said the attack was aimed at Cheney, but officials said it posed no real threat to him.
The attacker did not try to penetrate even the first of several U.S. security checkpoints at Bagram, instead detonating himself among a group of Afghan workers outside the base.