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Rockets destroy NATO helicopter, kill 3 Afghans hours after Bagram handover

Updated at 8:10 a.m. ET: KABUL, Afghanistan -- Four rockets hit Afghanistan's Bagram airfield, destroying a helicopter belonging to the NATO-led forces and killing three Afghan personnel inside, a spokesman for the coalition said Tuesday.

The attack, which took place at around 10 p.m. local time on Monday (1:30 p.m. ET Monday), came on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Security across the capital, Kabul, was intensified.


Two personnel belonging to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who were also in the helicopter, were wounded, the spokesman said.

The helicopter, which was on a ramp in the airfield when the rockets hit, was destroyed by the ensuing fire, an ISAF official told NBC News.

The Taliban, in a text message to Reuters, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had fired rockets at the helicopter, which was on a ramp in the airfield. 

Meanwhile, in the western province of Herat, a suicide attack on a meeting of village elders killed at least seven people and wounded six others, the local police chief’s office told NBC News.

Recent weeks have seen intensified violence across Afghanistan. This week's attacks come days after a young teenager detonated explosives near the heavily barricaded NATO headquarters in Kabul, killing six civilians including children.

That attack followed a suicide bombing of a funeral in eastern Nangarhar province, which killed at least 25.

Despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of Afghan and foreign troops fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, violence is at its worst since the Islamists were toppled by Afghan and U.S. forces in late 2001, five years after they took power.

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The United Nations says the Taliban are responsible for 80 percent of civilian casualties in the conflict.

 

Hoshang Hashimi / AP

More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

Bagram handover
The Bagram attack came hours after the United States handed control of the controversial giant prison located at at the air base and its 3,000 suspected Taliban inmates to Afghan authorities.

"Today is a historical and glorious day for Afghanistan where Afghans are able to take charge of the prison themselves," acting Defense Minister Enayatullah Nazari told a large crowd, including U.S. military officials, on Monday.

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But in a move that has angered the Afghan government, the United States plans to keep at least one block at the prison, where any suspected Taliban fighters or terrorists captured in future raids will be held before being handed over.

Since the agreement on the handover was signed in March, a further 600 people have been jailed at Bagram. The United States has no time frame on when these new prisoners will be handed over, and how long they plan to keep future captives.

NBC's Atia Abawi reports from Kabul, where a Taliban source tells NBC News that they have a plan to either kidnap or kill Britain's Prince Harry, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

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The United States is also keeping another roughly 30 of the original group of detainees, amid concerns that Kabul might process them out instead of keeping them behind bars, as stipulated in the transfer agreement.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday he spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the need to "continue to detain those that are a threat to their country," pursuant to the handover agreement.

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"I expressed to him that it was important to celebrate this day that we are transferring authority of a large number of prisoners to the Afghan government. It's an important step," he said. "We want to make sure that they in every way abide by the agreements that we work out with them."

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Afghan officials maintain that detention without trial is illegal under Afghan law. Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, declined to comment on the possibility of detention without trial happening anyway, simply saying: "We are against detainees not being processed by Afghan law."

NBC News' Atia Abawi and Reuters contributed to this report.

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