POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 1:50 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan » A group of would-be suicide bombers tried to storm a major NATO base in eastern Afghanistan early Saturday but were repelled before they could enter, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack — their second assault on the NATO base and an adjoining airport outside Jalalabad city in six months.
The militants attacked the Afghan army checkpoint outside the base shortly after dawn, sparking a gunbattle that lasted at least two hours with NATO helicopters firing from overhead, said Sgt. Abdullah Hamdard, a national army commander at the site.
There appeared to have been seven attackers — five who were killed in the fighting and two who fled into nearby villages — he said. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said there were 14 attackers and that 11 of them were killed, though the insurgent group typically gives inflated numbers.
NATO forces said in a statement that the base received fire but initial reports indicated no foreign or Afghan forces were killed.
NATO said it had reports of eight insurgents killed in the fighting, one of whom was wearing a suicide bomb vest. Hamdard said all of those killed had been wearing explosives vests, but none of them had a chance to detonate them.
An Associated Press photographer at the scene saw three dead bodies laid out, all in Afghan army uniforms, which militants often wear as a disguise. An AK-47 assault rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a grenade were laid out nearby.
Hamdard said Afghan forces were pursuing those who had fled and the situation was still uncertain because the remaining attackers could still detonate their bomb vests.
A spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial government, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, confirmed the attack and some militant casualties but did not provide other details.
In June, militants assaulted the NATO base with a car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons but did not breach its defenses. Eight militants were killed in that attack.
The base is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Kabul on the main road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistan border.