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18 Killed in Afghan Attacks During Hagel's Visit

Officials say two suicide bombings Saturday in Afghanistan killed at least 18 people as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits the nation.

Authorities say at least nine civilians were killed in an attack at the Defense Ministry in Kabul while Hagel was visiting the capital city. At least 14 people were wounded in the attack by a suicide bomber on a bicycle.

Hagel says he was in a safe location and was not harmed.

"I was in a briefing, but we're in a war zone. I've been in war, so shouldn't be surprised when a bomb goes off or there is an explosion."

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the assault was a warning to the U.S. defense chief.

Hagel comes to Afghanistan as it struggles with the U.S. over control of detention facilities and troop withdrawal. A ceremony to transfer U.S. control of a main detention facility to Afghanistan Saturday was canceled as a deal struck between the two governments broke down the day before.

Elsewhere, authorities say an Afghan police officer and eight civilians, mostly children, were killed in the second explosion in the eastern city of Khost.

Hagel arrived in Afghanistan Friday on his first foreign trip since being confirmed as Pentagon chief by the U.S. Senate last week.

Speaking to reporters as he flew to Kabul, Hagel expressed optimism about the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces prior to the departure of U.S.-led coalition forces in 2014.

Last month, Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta, said that NATO allies were considering leaving between 8,000 and 12,000 international troops in Afghanistan after 2014. There are currently around 100,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, including 66,000 U.S. troops.

Hagel said that while in Afghanistan he would meet with U.S. commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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