KABUL (Reuters) - Insurgents, some wearing suicide vests, launched a rocket and ground attack on the main foreign military base in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar Tuesday, with several militants killed in an ensuing gunfight, officials said.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst in the 9-year war, with Taliban-led insurgents carrying out increasingly brazen attacks around the country in a bid to topple the government and force foreign troops to withdraw.
Last month, more foreign troops were killed than in any month since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001. Hundreds of Afghan civilians have also been killed this year as they become increasingly caught up in the crossfire.
A spokeswoman for NATO-led forces in Kabul, Lieutenant Commander Katie Kendrick, confirmed there was small-arms fire outside the base and that one suicide bomber had tried to get in through one of the gates.
“The suicide bomber failed to gain access and then detonated his explosives, killing himself. This appears to be an unsuccessful and unorganized attack,” said Kendrick, adding she did not have any more details on the incident including any reports of casualties.
A Reuters witness inside the base said he heard what sounded like two rockets exploding followed by gunfire.
The governor’s office in Kandahar put out a statement saying two rockets had also hit inside the base, killing one foreign soldier and wounding some civilians but later corrected its report, saying the soldier had only been wounded.
Six insurgents, two of them wearing vests packed with explosives for use in a suicide attack, had also been killed in a gun battle outside the base, it said.
Kendrick could not confirm rockets had hit the base or say whether there were any foreign troop casualties.
Kandahar Air Field, about 25 km (15 miles) outside Kandahar city, is the largest foreign military base in the country and home to tens of thousands of troops and civilian workers.
The sprawling, heavily fortified base often comes under insurgent rocket attack but it is rare for militants to launch a ground assault on it. An attack in May, however, left a number of troops and civilian staff wounded.
Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, is the main focus of Washington’s strategy to try to turn the tide against the insurgency this year.
Thousands of U.S. troops are engaged in operations in outlying districts while others have moved inside the city with Afghan police in a bid to bring better security.
Additional reporting by Christophe Vanderperre in KANDAHAR; Editing by Miral Fahmy