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Taleban Suicide Bomber 'Targets' Vice President Cheney Outside US Base in Afghanistan

Vice President Dick Cheney escaped any injury following a suicide bomb attack outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan that killed at least 12 people, and the number of dead could go higher. The Afghan government says as many as 23 people were killed. VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad that the vice president went on to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to review his country's deteriorating security situation.

The explosion went off Tuesday morning just outside the main gate of Bagram Air Base, about 60 kilometers north of the Afghan capital, Kabul. U.S. officials say Vice President Dick Cheney was safely inside the heavily guarded military base at the time.

The vice president told reporters he heard a "loud boom" before officials moved him to a nearby bomb shelter. He said the Taleban was clearly trying to send a message with the attack and challenge the Afghan government's authority.

An American and a South Korean soldier were among those confirmed dead, but Senior Master Sergeant Richard Simonson says most of the victims were local Afghans.

"Medical personnel are treating the injured at medical facilities here at Bagram airfield at this time," he said. "The incident has no impact on the vice president and the incident is under investigation."

The Taleban quickly announced responsibility for the attack and said the U.S. leader was the intended target.

The blast occurred at the first of at least three separate checkpoints protecting Bagram, which houses roughly 10,000 U.S. and coalition forces.

Cheney left the airfield about two hours after the explosion and went to scheduled talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. The two men met privately for about 45 minutes before joining advisers.

U.S. and Afghan officials are increasingly concerned about a major Taleban offensive expected in the next few weeks.

Taleban spokesmen say they are planning a massive wave of violence throughout Afghanistan as soon as the weather improves and snow begins to melt.

Cheney also made an unannounced visit to Pakistan Monday amid reports that both Taleban and al-Qaida insurgents have established a series of bases along the Afghan border.

Cheney reportedly warned Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that U.S. funding to Islamabad could be in jeopardy unless his forces help improve regional security.

On Monday, Britain said it would send an additional 1,400 troops to Afghanistan to help repel any offensive.

There are already about 45,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including more than 27,000 U.S. forces and 5,000 from Great Britain.