Taliban bombers attack air base in Afghanistan
By AZAM AHMED and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
The New York Times | December 03,2012
Afghan security forces patrol the site where Taliban suicide bombers attacked a joint U.S.-Afghan air base in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban forces attacked a large coalition airfield in eastern Afghanistan early Sunday morning, detonating three car bombs near the entrance of the base before sparking a two-hour gun battle that claimed the lives of nine insurgents, three Afghan security guards and at least four civilians whose vehicle was caught in the crossfire, Afghan officials and witnesses said.
Disguised in coalition military uniforms, Taliban fighters attempted to enter the base following the initial suicide bombings, which took place just before 6 a.m., but were repelled by a battery of coalition firepower that included helicopter gunships, officials said.
The confrontation wounded fewer than 10 coalition service members, according to official reports, though by late Sunday it remained unclear exactly how many had been hurt or how severely. At least one member of the Afghan military was killed in the fighting.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the operation, claiming to have killed “tens” of foreign forces, though the insurgents routinely overstate the deadliness of their attacks.
But the coordinated assault, which left the entry to the base strewn with the bloody remains of the bombers, was a potent reminder of the Taliban’s determination to continue the fight. As coalition forces wind down the 11-year war, with Western combat troops already withdrawing, the Taliban attacks serve as a consistent reminder that they are not going anywhere — and that their firepower remains. How successful such defenses will be after the 2014 withdrawal of coalition forces is a question on the minds of many Afghans.
The base, known as Forward Operating Base Fenty, is primarily American and is one of the larger airfields in eastern Afghanistan. Like other large coalition bases in the country, Fenty has been attacked before, including in February of this year, when a suicide blast killed nine Afghans. The assaults have, in most cases, been repulsed before insurgents could fight their way inside the bases, and coalition casualties have been minimal, as appears to have been the case Sunday.
But the Afghans who work or live near the base have not been so fortunate. Afghan officials said that two of the civilians killed were doctors, their car riddled by gunfire about 50 yards from the base. The doctors had been on their way to work in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, said Hajji Niamatullah Khan, the district governor of Behsood. In addition, at least three private security guards on duty at the outer perimeter at the base were killed in the attack, he said.
Coalition forces had few details about the extent of the damage from the Taliban assault. Efforts to determine the number of servicemen, civilians and insurgents killed or wounded remained ongoing, Maj. Martyn Crighton said.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said medical evacuation helicopters could be seen ferrying dead and wounded U.S. soldiers away from the scene of the attack, “which shows that heavy casualties were inflicted” by the attackers.
He also claimed that a Toyota sport utility vehicle packed with explosives had leveled one of the guard towers at the base, and added that some of the attackers were wearing “foreign” military uniforms, a tactic the Taliban have employed in previous assaults on coalition bases. An official from the U.S.-led coalition confirmed that at least some of the attackers wore coalition uniforms.
The last major assault against a coalition base was in September, when the Taliban blew up eight Harrier attack jets and killed two Marines at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. The militants, wearing U.S. Army uniforms, caused more than $200 million in damage in that attack.