/ 19 August 2008

Wave of suicide bombers hits US base in Afghanistan

A wave of Taliban suicide bombers backed by gunmen attempted to breach the defences of the main United States base in south-eastern Afghanistan overnight, Afghan and Nato officials said on Tuesday.

Nato troops were still fighting the remaining Taliban insurgents after driving them back to houses in a nearby village, the provincial governor said. The Afghan Defence Ministry said 13 suicide bombers were killed.

A suicide bomber killed 10 Afghan civilians and wounded 13 more outside the same base on Monday.

Troops from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), meanwhile, were engaged in an ongoing ”major battle” with insurgents in Kabul province that began on Monday, Isaf said in a statement, without giving further details.

The attacks on a large foreign base and major clashes near the capital point to a greater confidence among the Islamist Taliban militants, who have stepped up their fight to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

A group of 30 Taliban fighters, among them six suicide bombers, attacked Camp Salerno close to the Pakistan border overnight, provincial governor Arsala Jamal told reporters.

”Since then there has been a clash going on between Nato and the Taliban. Six Taliban were killed after they blew up the bombs they had on their bodies. Two children have been killed and two more, along with a woman, have been wounded,” he said.

A US soldier was killed and four Afghan troops wounded in the fighting, he said, but Isaf said there were no casualties on its side.

Firefight ongoing
Isaf troops pushed backed the Taliban attack with air support and the Taliban fled to houses in a nearby village, Jamal said.

Several houses were bombed in Isaf air strikes, residents said, adding they saw two helicopters evacuating military casualties from the site of the clash.

”We had up to six suicide bombers on foot. Some of the bombers were able to blow themselves up outside the base and some have been killed by our forces,” said a spokesperson for Isaf.

”The firefight is still ongoing. There are no casualties on our own side,” he said.

The Taliban said they had sent 15 suicide bombers against the base, the private Tolo TV quoted a militant spokesperson as saying.

Camp Salerno is a large, sprawling base with a runway and helicopter landing pads close to the town of Khost and is the main hub for mostly US troops in south-eastern Afghanistan.

The east has seen a 40% rise in Taliban attacks in the last three months compared with last year, Nato says, partly as a result of ceasefires between the Pakistani army and militants, which allow insurgents to send more forces into Afghanistan. — Reuters