KABUL: About two dozen Taliban militants — at least some dressed in US military uniforms — were killed Saturday in a failed attempt to storm two US-run bases in a city in eastern Afghanistan, NATO said.
The attackers targeted US-run Forward Operating Bases (FOB) Salerno and Chapman, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
Amid a surge in military deaths, the brazen attacks underscored the threats faced by foreign forces in Afghanistan as the insurgency drags towards its tenth year.
The alliance said its troops had “repelled two failed attacks at bases in Khost”, killing a total of 24 insurgents with the help of Afghan security forces. There were no coalition casualties.
“While the majority of the attacking fighters were killed outside of the FOBs, two insurgents managed to breach the perimeter and made it onto FOB Salerno,” the statement said.
About 15 rebels were killed near Salerno, six near Chapman and three others including a rebel commander in an airstrike while retreating from battle in a vehicle, the statement added.
Seven suicide bomb vests were also seized along with bomb-laden vehicles that the Islamic rebels often use in suicide attacks, the statement added.
Local police chief Adbul Hakim Is’haqzai said militants attacked (FOB) Salerno before retreating to occupy a secondary school near Camp Chapman. Both bases are in Khost city, where second-hand US military uniforms are on sale in markets.
In December Camp Chapman became the scene of the worst attack on US intelligence officials since 1983, when seven CIA agents were killed.
Saturday’s assault began in the early hours of the morning when insurgents launched rockets and fired guns at FOB Salerno, Is’haqzai said. He said the attackers then turned on Chapman, closer to the city.
“The attack has been foiled,” Is’haqzai said. “We have recovered 14 bodies, those of Taliban who were killed fighting. Five Taliban have been captured alive.”
The fighting lasted for several hours with the remaining Taliban shooting at security forces from positions in a cornfield near the school that had been attacked earlier, he said.
A senior police official who spoke under condition his name not be mentioned said about 25 rebels took part in the attack, “most of whom have been killed.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed contacted AFP to say the insurgent group had dispatched suicide bombers.
“Twenty-eight Taliban suicide bombers have launched an attack on a coalition base in Khost,” he said from an undisclosed location.
“They have entered the base,” he said.
The Taliban are known to exaggerate their claims.
Saturday’s attack came nine days after FOB Salerno was visited by the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus, ISAF said.
Petraeus commands almost 150,000 US and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, fighting a vicious Taliban-led insurgency that is most intense in the south and east of the country.
Khost province borders Pakistan, which is widely believed to be a key source of fighters, funds and supplies for the Taliban.
ISAF said three insurgents including a rebel commander were killed in a precision airstrike near Salerno. It did not say if they were linked to the earlier attack on the base.
A surge in violence in Afghanistan has led to increased military deaths. The number of foreign soldiers killed in the country this year is 465, compared with 521 for all of 2009, according to independent tallies.
Separately, ISAF on Saturday said an Afghan National Police (ANP) officer who killed two Spanish military instructors and a Spanish interpreter during a training session in Badghis province on Tuesday, had strong Taliban links.
The man, who was also shot dead in the gunfight, had been arrested and disarmed a year ago for having “links to terrorists” and is brother-in-law to a “known terrorist” in the area, ISAF said in a statement.
“Following his arrest, two local elders established the shooter as a credible member of society and he was allowed to go free and subsequently re-enlist with the ANP,” it said.