Militants attack main NATO base in southern Afghanistan
Militants fired rockets and launched a ground attack on NATO's main base in southern Afghanistan, just days after a similar assault on a major military installation near Kabul.
There were a number of injuries in the attack on Kandahar Airfield on Saturday evening and a security lockdown was swiftly enforced as the militants tried to get inside the sprawling base.
Militants fired five rockets in the assault, Afghan contractors working on the base said, with one landing near a shopping strip and another near a helicopter landing zone.
"We are currently under ground attack," said airfield spokesman Major Brian DeSantis, adding that he had heard no small-arms fire.
A base spokesman later added: "A number of insurgents were attempting to enter the base on the north side. They were repelled by security forces.
"A number of ISAF personnel and civilian workers have been injured and are receiving medical treatment. There are no confirmed fatalities."
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is the NATO-led mission helping fight an increasingly deadly Taliban insurgency in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Kandahar Airfield is the main base in the area for troops fighting the insurgency, which is concentrated in the southern province of Kandahar. It houses around 23,000 personnel.
The base regularly comes under rocket fire and all personnel are ordered to take cover until an all-clear is sounded.
It sits on the edge of Kandahar city, the provincial capital, where Taliban are digging in as US, NATO and Afghan troops build an operation aimed at squeezing the militants out of their spiritual home.
The attack came as Britain's new foreign minister William Hague met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
Hague, accompanied by Defence Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, said they had made clear to Karzai that Britain expected to see his government make progress to match the international strategy for ending the insurgency.
"We are urgently taking stock of the situation, but in the sense not of deciding whether to support that strategy but of how to support that strategy in the coming months and years," Hague told reporters.
Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the second biggest commitment behind the US in a force of 130,000 fighting the Taliban insurgency under NATO command.
The number of foreign troops is set to rise to 150,000 by August as part of a US-led counter-insurgency strategy aimed at speeding up the end of the war now well into its ninth year.
The attack in Kandahar was the third on international forces in a week after a suicide attack in the capital on Tuesday and an attack on Bagram Airfield, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Kabul, the following day.
Seven hours of fighting at Bagram resulted in the deaths of an American contract worker and 16 militants, NATO said. Nine NATO soldiers were wounded.
Earlier this month the Taliban announced a new nationwide campaign of attacks in Afghanistan, targeting diplomats, Afghan parliamentarians and foreign contractors, as well as foreign forces.
© 2010 AFP