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With Hagel In Afghanistan, Explosion Hits Near Defense Ministry

A bomb exploded near the Defense Ministry in Kabul on Saturday morning as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was visiting in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility, calling it a message to the new Pentagon chief.

Update At 10:49 a.m. ET: Hagel Not Surprised

Hagel was nowhere near the attack, but the AP reports he heard the blast:

" 'We're in a war zone. I've been in war, so shouldn't be surprised when a bomb goes off or there's an explosion,' said Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran. Asked what his message to the Taliban would be, he said that the U.S. was going to continue to work with its allies to ensure that the Afghan people have the ability to develop their own country and democracy."

Our Original Post Continues:

Hagel was in a briefing elsewhere at the time of the attack, NPR's David Welna reports. Hagel arrived Friday on his first visit to the country as defense chief, and he has been scheduled to meet with his Afghan counterpart Sunday.

In a separate briefing about less than a mile away from the blast, the tiles on the ceiling rattled, and reporters were evacuated to a secure location, Welna tells our Newscast Desk.

The Associated Press has this report on the motive for the bombing:

"The Taliban claimed responsibility for the morning attack at the ministry, saying it was meant to send a signal to the U.S. defense chief. 'This attack was a message to him,' Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email to reporters."

The Washington Post, citing Kabul's deputy police commander, says nine people were killed.

After the attack, Post reporter Ernesto Londono tweeted that the day would continue as planned for Pentagon press corps traveling with Hagel.

The AP reports there was a second attack Saturday at a police checkpoint in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. In total, the AP says, at least 19 people were killed in the blasts.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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