Tags: Taliban | assault | brazen | US

Taliban Stages Brazen Assault on US Base

Wednesday, 19 May 2010 09:32 AM

BAGRAM, Afghanistan – An audacious gun, grenade and suicide attack on the largest NATO base in Afghanistan sparked hours of battles Wednesday, killing an American contract worker and 11 militants.

Nine soldiers from the US-led foreign military force were wounded in the seven-hour gunfight at Bagram Airfield, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Kabul, military spokesman Master Sargeant Tom Clementson said.

The assault by Taliban militants, one day after a suicide car bomber killed five US soldiers, a Canadian colonel and 12 Afghans in Kabul, highlighted the increasing sophistication and relentless pace of the nearly nine-year conflict.

Bagram is run primarily by the US military and is the biggest NATO base in the country.

The Taliban, which is leading the insurgency against the Afghan government and Western troops, claimed responsibility for the attack. The militia said 20 suicide bombers had taken part, but regularly exaggerates its claims.

"The attack started at around 4:00 to 4:30 in the morning (and) it was concluded at around 10:30 to 11:00 am," the last six hours comprising "light and sporadic" gunfire, Clementson told AFP.

He said a US civilian contractor in "the vicinity of one of the exchanges" was killed along with 11 militants. Of the nine soldiers injured, two had returned to duty and the others were in "stable condition".

Clementson added that at least four of the attackers were armed with suicide vests and that they were killed before detonating their devices. The insurgents had not been able to "breach the base".

Another coalition spokeswoman told AFP: "They targeted a gate but couldn't enter.... Soldiers' response was pretty quick."

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the attack "included rockets, small arms and grenades".

With connecting flights across Afghanistan and abroad, Bagram is a transit hub for much of the 130,000-strong US-led NATO force, which is being boosted to 150,000 by August to step up the fight against the Taliban.

Witness Zemarai Malikzada said: "I saw American helicopters flying overhead, they were firing down and the terrorists were firing at them."

Ahmad Jawad, a local farmer, said he saw a man wearing a suicide vest: "I went towards him. He showed me his bombs on his chest. I ran away. He ran towards those vineyards.

"Police and the Americans followed him then he exploded, right in there," he said, pointing to a vineyard near the paved road.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location that four suicide bombers had activated their explosive belts.

Bagram has acquired notoriety as the location of a US-run prison that the military opened following the US-led invasion that brought down the Taliban regime in late 2001.

The entrance was last hit by a double attack in March 2009 that wounded three civilians.

On a busy day, the air terminal at Bagram processes around 1,650 passengers.

In addition to troops, there are around 5,000 civilians on the 2,100-hectare (5,190-acre) compound, working for companies contracted by the military.

The Taliban threatened a new nationwide campaign of attacks from May 10 targeting diplomats, members of the Afghan parliament, foreign contractors and the international military force.

Another NATO soldier was killed in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, bringing to at least 211 the number of foreign troops to have died in the war so far this year. Out of that number, 130 have been from the United States.

On Tuesday, eight NATO soldiers were killed -- six of them in a suicide car bomb attack in the capital, which the Taliban claimed responsibility for.

Washington believes the "surge" of extra troops can wrest back the initiative in key population centres and allow US forces to start withdrawing from the unpopular and costly conflict next year.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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BAGRAM, Afghanistan – An audacious gun, grenade and suicide attack on the largest NATO base in Afghanistan sparked hours of battles Wednesday, killing an American contract worker and 11 militants.
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