The Taliban claimed responsibility today for a night-time assault on Nato's biggest base in southern Afghanistan in which insurgents firing rockets, mortars and automatic weapons tried to storm Kandahar Air Field. It was the second such attack on a major military installation this week. Several coalition troops and civilian employees were wounded in last night's assault, but there were no reports of deaths, officials said.
Artillery and machine-gun fire reverberated through the base, about 500 kilometres south-west of Kabul, several hours after the attack began, according to a Canadian Press agency report from Kandahar. Militants unleashed rockets and mortars about 8pm local time and then tried unsuccessfully to storm the northern perimeter, officials said. One of the rockets hit a shop-lined boardwalk where soldiers go in the evening to socialise. A bloodstain could be seen on the walkway outside a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant on the boardwalk this morning, said Maura Axelrod, a reporter with HDNet who was inside the base.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told Associated Press that its fighters attacked the base from two sides and fired more than 15 rockets. It was the third major attack on Nato forces in Afghanistan in six days. The attacks follow a Taliban announcement of a spring offensive against Nato forces and Afghan government troops - their response to a promise by the Obama administration to squeeze the Taliban out of their strongholds in the southern province of Kandahar.
On Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a Nato convoy in the capital, killing 18 people, including five American and a Canadian Nato service members. The next day, dozens of Taliban militants attacked the main US military base at Bagram Air Field, killing an American contractor in fighting that lasted more than eight hours. Last night, at least five rockets struck the Kandahar base in the initial attack, said Navy Cmdr. Amanda Peterseim, a spokeswoman for Nato forces at the base. Witnesses said explosions continued through much of the night. There were no reports of deaths and Cmdr. Peterseim did not have the precise number of wounded.
"The alarm has been sounding for several hours, but no insurgents have penetrated the base perimeter," Nato said in a statement issued overnight. It said "a number" of military and civilian personnel were wounded "and are receiving medical treatment. There are no confirmed fatalities." Nato said troops and civilians were told to remain in bunkers as a precaution. Cmdr. Peterseim did not know how many insurgents launched the attack but said they did not appear to be wearing suicide vests, as had many of those who stormed Bagram Air Field north of Kabul on Wednesday. In addition to the US contractor's death, 16 militants were killed and five attackers were captured in the Bagram assault.
Rocket attacks against the Kandahar base, located about 16 kilometres south of Kandahar city, are not uncommon. But ground assaults against such large facilities as Kandahar and Bagram are rare. Two attacks in the same week show that the militants are capable of complex operations despite Nato military pressure. Kandahar Air Field is the launching pad for thousands of additional US forces pouring into the country for a summer surge against the Taliban.