Insurgents launched a rare ground assault against Nato’s main military base in southern Afghanistan today, wounding several international service members in the second such attack on a major military installation this week.
A Canadian Press news agency report from the Kandahar base said artillery and machine gun fire reverberated through the area, about 300 miles (500km) south-west of the capital Kabul, several hours after the attack began.
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack – the third major assault on Nato forces in Afghanistan in six days – but the Kandahar area is a Taliban stronghold.
On Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a Nato convoy in the capital, killing 18 people including six 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.
Rockets started hitting Kandahar Air Field at about 8pm local time today (3.30pm GMT), followed quickly by a ground assault, said Navy Commander Amanda Peperseim, a spokeswoman for Nato forces at the base.
She said at least five rockets struck the base, wounding a number of service members, as militants tried unsuccessfully to breach the defence perimeter on the northern side. There were no reports of deaths and she did not have the precise number of wounded.
Peperseim 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 the 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 10 miles south of Kandahar city, are not uncommon. But ground assaults against such large facilities as Kandahar and Bagram are rare, and two attacks in the same week show the militants are capable of complex operations despite Nato military pressure.
The attacks came soon after the Taliban announced a spring offensive against Nato forces and Afghan government troops – their response to a promise by US President Barack Obama’s administration to squeeze the Taliban out of their strongholds in southern Kandahar province.
Kandahar Air Field is the launching pad for thousands of additional US forces pouring into the country for a summer surge against the Taliban.
A loudspeaker announcement at the Kandahar base said the ground attack was coming from the north, said Maura Axelrod, a reporter with HDNet who was inside the base. She said she could hear heavy outgoing fire and that commanders had come into the bunker where she had taken cover to order all marines with weapons to help in establishing a security perimeter.
An Afghan who works with a private security company on the base said that he heard rockets hitting for about half an hour.