(CNSNews.com) – Responding to the deadliest attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan in more than three years, the White House issued a statement Monday saying its “thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and their loved ones.”
“We express our deepest condolences to the families of the six U.S. service members killed and to all of those injured in today’s Taliban attack near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan,” said the statement, issued by White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
There was no statement from President Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii with his family. Obama played golf on Monday afternoon at the Mid-Pacific Country Club, after a morning workout at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“Obama attempted a chip shot of about 40 feet and made it into the hole,” an AP report stated at the end of the afternoon’s golf. “He reacted by dropping his wedge and raising his hat and arms into the air. He then pointed his finger at the media and tipped his hat and waved toward the gallery watching him from the road.”
According to Operation Resolute Support public affairs office, the suicide bombing that killed six American troops at Bagram, the largest U.S. base in the country, occurred at around 1:30 PM on Monday – around 4 AM Monday in Washington, and 11 PM Sunday night in Honolulu.
“The United States condemns this cowardly attack on members of the U.S. and Afghan forces, and we remain committed to supporting the Afghan people and their government,” Earnest said in the statement.
“We will continue to work together to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, just as we will not relent in our mission to counter the threat of terrorism that plagues the region.”
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who visited Afghanistan just days ago, said the six service members “died after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on their patrol outside Bagram Air Base.”
Another two troops and an American contractor were wounded in the blast.
“It serves as a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan,” he said.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of these brave Americans who died in service to this vital mission, and our thoughts remain with all of our troops serving overseas during this holiday season so that we may have peace and security at home,” Carter said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was carried out by a “fearless mujahid” named Zahidullah.
The terrorist group said in a statement that the attacker “slammed his motorbike filled with explosives near a large number of the U.S. invading troops gathered near the Bagram base, blowing as many as 19 American invaders to bits and leaving several others wounded.” The Taliban routinely inflates the numbers of enemy casualties.
It was the greatest loss of American life in a single combat incident in Afghanistan since August 2012, when seven U.S. troops and four Afghans were killed when a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter was brought down by hostile fire in Kandahar.
Seven Georgian soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Helmand province in June 2013, according to figures kept by iCasualties.org.
Resolute Support is the NATO support mission – with the mandate to “train, assist and advise” Afghan forces – which began after the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission ended a year ago.
Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal timetable originally provided for 9,800 troops at the start of 2015, around half that number at year’s end, with all troops out by the end of 2016, apart from a “security assistance component” attached to the U.S. Embassy.
Last October he announced a slowdown, saying the U.S. would retain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016, and then draw down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017.
Alongside the 9,800 U.S. troops are some 4,000 from other NATO members.
Monday’s attack at the base north of Kabul came as the Taliban captured a key district, Sangin, in Helmand province.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal reported on Monday that the Taliban now “controls or contests” almost the entire southern province.
According to iCasualties.org, more coalition troops were killed in Helmand than in any other province during the war that began in late 2001 – a total of 954.