KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban claimed responsibility today for a nighttime assault on NATO’s biggest base in southern Afghanistan. Insurgents firing rockets, mortars and automatic weapons tried to storm Kandahar Air Field – the second such attack on a major military installation in the past week.
Several coalition troops and civilian employees were wounded in the assault Saturday night, but there were no reports of deaths, officials said.
A Canadian Press news agency report from Kandahar said artillery and machine gun fire reverberated through the base, about 300 miles southwest of Kabul, several hours after the attack began. Militants unleashed rockets and mortars about 8 p.m. and then tried unsuccessfully to storm the northern perimeter, officials said.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told the Associated Press that its fighters attacked the base from two sides and fired more than 15 rockets.
The attacks follow a Taliban announcement of a spring offensive against NATO forces and Afghan government troops – their response to a promise by the Obama administration to squeeze the Taliban out of their strongholds in the southern province of Kandahar.
On Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy in the capital, killing 18 people including six NATO service members including five Americans and a Canadian. The next day, dozens of Taliban militants attacked the main U.S. military base – Bagram Air Field – killing an American contractor in fighting that lasted more than eight hours.
On Saturday night, at least five rockets struck the Kandahar base in the initial attack, said Navy Cmdr. Amanda Peterseim, a spokeswoman for NATO forces at the base.
Witnesses said explosions continued through much of the night. There were no reports of deaths and Peterseim did not have the precise number of wounded.
“The alarm has been sounding for several hours, but no insurgents have penetrated the base perimeter,” NATO said in a statement. It said “a number” of military and civilian personnel were wounded “and are receiving medical treatment. There are no confirmed fatalities.”
NATO said troops and civilians were told to remain in bunkers as a precaution.