KABUL, Afghanistan – Militants set off a car bomb and stormed the entrance to a major NATO air base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, authorities said. Eight insurgents died in the failed assault.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the third ground assault against a major coalition base in the past five weeks. The attacks failed to overrun the bases but showed that the Taliban have not been cowed by U.S. efforts to ramp up the war.
Using light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, the militants battled U.S. and Afghan forces for 30 minutes around the airport on the outskirts of Jalalabad city, the media office at the airport said. White smoke rose from the scene.
An Afghan solider and one international service member were wounded in the fighting, NATO said.
"They were not able to breach the perimeter. They were fought off by a combination of Afghan and coalition security forces," German army Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO, told reporters.
The airport, which includes a major military base shared by Afghans and the international force, on a main road that leads to the Pakistani border.
In a text message to The Associated Press in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said six suicide attackers killed 32 foreign and Afghan security forces at the airport, about 80 miles (125 kilometers) east of the Afghan capital. The insurgents often claim higher numbers of deaths in their attacks than the official toll.
The Jalalabad attack follows a May 19 ground assault against the giant Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and a similar attack three days later against Kandahar Air Field in the south.
In a separate incident in eastern Afghanistan, NATO said a U.S. trooper died of wounds sustained in a gunbattle with insurgents. NATO did not provide other details. The death brought to 59 the number of American troops who have died in June.
Wednesday also marked the first anniversary of the capture of Spc. Bowe W. Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, the only American service member held prisoner by the insurgents. Bergdahl was discovered missing during his unit's roll-call the following day.
"Since he was captured on June 30, 2009, it has been a top priority for U.S. and coalition forces to find him, recover him, and bring him home safely," said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, deputy chief of staff for communication. "We continue our efforts to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return."
Elsewhere in the east, U.S. and Afghan forces battled hundreds of militants from an al-Qaida-linked group for a third day Tuesday in Kunar province, the U.S. military said. Two American soldiers were killed Sunday in the first day of the operation.
The attack in Kunar was directed against insurgents believed responsible for a roadside bombing that killed five American service members in the area on June 7, a U.S. statement said.
The militants were believed to be members of the Haqqani group, a faction of the Taliban based in Pakistan that has close ties to al-Qaida. About 600 U.S. and Afghan troops are taking part in the operation, the U.S. statement said.
In western Afghanistan, two patients waiting for a doctor were wounded Wednesday when a suicide bomber detonated his vest of explosives behind a clinic in the Dularam district of Farah province, said Gen. Abdul Jabar Pardeli, chief of police in neighboring Nimroz province. He said the intended target was not known.
On Monday, four Afghan National Police officers were killed by a roadside bomb in the same district, the Ministry of Interior said.
On Tuesday in Kabul, an Afghan man working for the United Nations was shot and killed in his vehicle near a busy traffic circle.
The man was driving a white pickup truck with the blue U.N. logo painted on the side. Another Afghan member of the U.N. staff who was in the vehicle was not wounded, the U.N. said.
The morning shooting occurred in heavy traffic near Massoud circle, an intersection near the U.S. Embassy and an American military base.
Blotz said Wednesday that it remains unclear whether the U.N. vehicle was the intended target of the shooting.
Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb wounded seven civilians in the Arghistan district of Kandahar and another bomb killed two civilians and wounded two others in Khakrez district, the Afghan Ministry of Interior said.
Afghan and international forces are ramping up security in and around Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
Blotz said 43 insurgents were killed or captured in a three-day operation aimed at disrupting insurgents in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where they have plotted attacks on Kandahar city. In the past two months, joint forces have reportedly captured more than 115 suspected insurgents, including more than 15 mid- and senior-level militant leaders, and destroyed four roadside mine factories.
UPDATE @ 11:00 AM:
I asked BabaTim of Free Range International if he had any more insight on today's attack. He replied:
At around 0700 Ins detonated a device along the southeastern fence line of JAF and followed up the detonation with small arms and RPG fire. They did not breach the perimeter and withdrew under heavy fire to the village of Qal'eh-ye Maqamkhan which is just southeast of the base. Currently ANSF and ISAF have the village surrounded and are rooting out the attackers. JAF remains closed at this time and will probably be closed all day. There was no breach of the base and no reported casualties. Concurrent (unknown if related) with this incident was the detonation of a limpet mine attached to a fuel tanker at the customs area in Bati Kot on the Torkham to Jbad road. The charge did not catch the fuel in the tanker on fire and the incident was cleared with traffic flowing in about 10 minutes.As more develops, I will post more.
I have since learned that the attack started around 0500 on the southeastern side (not the main Torkham to Jbad road side) and there were 5 villains who attacked in an attempt to breach the gate. They started with a volley of RPG's and one of them (who had on a suicide vest) started towards to SE gate which is a pedestrian entrance.
This part I am not too sure about - reportedly an airborne OH 58 got him as he approached the gate and the remaining four fell back to their toyota corolla. That is mighty fast clearance for air to ground fire - and the same bird destroyed the toyota forcing the four surviving attackers into the village of Maqamkhan. In an hour of fighting the ANA and Army guys killed all four restoring calm to the area by noon.
It is hard to believe an OH 58 just happened to be up, armed, and able to get fire clearance that fast so I am still checking out that part of the story.
Other than that this was another nuisance attack which could accomplish little more than generating another international press story.
BabaTim sends the following update
"...the time of attack was 0730 not 0700 and the story about the helicopter being up I think is bogus - I can't find one guy who can verify it.Amy Sun of the Jalalabad Fab Lab Blog writes via email:
We just had a rocket land near the airport and an IED go off in the downtown bazaar targeting a cell phone store. It is close to where a music store was bombed last week and probably unrelated to the attacks on JAF."
It's mostly all the same stuff going around; lots of "I heard that..." going around here abouts. Whatever happened at 7am, I didn't hear it but I'm on the flight path and in the middle screaming kids and incessant roosters. I was out and about today and nothing seemed different in the city.I will continue to update as more becomes available.