Taliban suicide attack on NATO base at Afghan airport

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec 2, 2012 (AFP) -Taliban insurgents launched a major attack Sunday against a NATO base at an Afghan city airport with suicide car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms fire.
The Taliban claimed insurgents had entered the airport at Jalalabad, near the eastern border with Pakistan, but this was denied by NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
"Insurgents including suicide bombers attacked the perimeter of the Jalalabad air base this morning," a spokesman told AFP.
"None of the attackers succeeded breaching the perimeter."
The airport complex has multiple layers of security, with the NATO base set well back from the first entrance, which an Afghan official said had been breached.
There were no early reports of ISAF casualties but one Afghan security force member was reportedly killed and another was wounded, the spokesman said.
An Afghan security official told AFP he had seen five dead men in Afghan army uniform, but it was unclear whether they were soldiers or Taliban attackers.
The Taliban said their militants had entered the airport, and an Afghan government official confirmed that clashes had taken place within the airport complex.
"First a fedayee (suicide bomber) mujahid... detonated a car bomb causing the enemy heavy casualties and losses and removed all the barriers," the Taliban said on their website.
"After the attack other fedayee mujahids entered the base... and started attacking the invading forces in the base."
A guard said that after the initial huge explosion the airport had come under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms.
The hardline Taliban Islamists have waged an 11-year insurgency against the Afghan government, which is backed by 100,000 NATO troops, since being overthrown in a US-led invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The airport has come under attack on two previous occasions this year.
On February 27, six civilians, an Afghan soldier and two local guards were killed in a suicide car bomb attack on the military base at Jalalabad airport, but NATO troops escaped unhurt.
The airport also came under attack on April 15, when the Taliban launched their spring offensive with a series of commando-style assaults across Afghanistan.
The latest assault comes as the usual summer fighting season should be drawing to a close and shows that the insurgency remains resilient as NATO forces prepare to withdraw in 2014.
With the end of the US "surge" in Afghanistan, the Taliban have survived the biggest military onslaught the West will throw at them.
The last of the extra 33,000 soldiers President Barack Obama deployed nearly three years ago left in September, and the vast majority of the remaining NATO force of more than 100,000 will follow by the end of 2014.
But while the unpopular conflict might end for NATO, some analysts predict a collapse of the Western-backed government and a civil war worse than that in the 1990s when Soviet troops withdrew after their own 10-year occupation.
The Taliban have proved adept at tactics: if they lost territory in the south, they assassinated key officials, staged high-profile attacks that humiliated their enemies and infiltrated the Afghan security forces.
In September, for example, they stormed onto one of the largest NATO bases in the country, destroying six fighter aircraft in the biggest single loss of air assets for the United States since the Vietnam War.
One of the aims of the surge was to put so much pressure on the Taliban that they would come to the negotiating table, but the insurgents called off early contacts in March, accusing the United States of constantly changing its position.

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