KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban militants launched a rocket and ground attack on Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, the alliance said, days after an assault on another major base in the country.
Five rockets were fired at the massive base in the Taliban’s spiritual capital where NATO forces are preparing a series of offensives to wrest control of the province.
“Kandahar airfield came under indirect fire at approximately 8 p.m. local time tonight. An undetermined number of rockets have been fired at the base,” a statement from NATO forces based in Kandahar said.
A number of NATO personnel and civilian workers were wounded and no insurgents managed to enter the base, the statement said.
An intelligence source on the base said it had been hit by three rockets. One struck a helicopter terminal used by foreign troops, wounding four foreigners, one hit a shopping area and another failed to hit any significant target.
The source said the Taliban came close to the airfield and fired rockets. Helicopters hit back at them with gunfire.
People on the sprawling base were ordered to take shelter in bunkers, and a loudspeaker announcement warned of a ground attack, a journalist there said.
Lucian Read said there were reports that one of the rockets may have hit a volleyball court in the center of the main shopping area of the base known as the boardwalk and that one of the insurgents was a suicide bomber.
The attack came days after an assault on one of the coalition’s biggest bases in Bagram, north of the Afghan capital, in which an American contractor was killed and nine U.S. troops wounded.
That attack came a day after a suicide car bomber hit a NATO convoy in Kabul, killing 12 Afghan civilians and six foreign troops. It was the deadliest strike against foreign troops in the heavily guarded capital since September 2009, when six Italian soldiers were killed.
U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and overthrew a Taliban government that had sheltered al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The Taliban had announced an offensive from May 20 against the government, foreign forces and diplomats in Afghanistan in response to NATO’s plans for an operation against the group’s southern stronghold of Kandahar.
The latest attacks may boost the stature of the insurgents after the arrests of some senior leaders early this year in Pakistan, combined with a belated announcement for the spring offensive, had some saying the insurgents were on the defensive.
NATO commanders at Kandahar airfield oversee more than 54.000 troops based in southern Afghanistan.
The attacks also come just ahead of a grand assembly, or a jirga, that President Hamid Karzai has called to push for reconciliation with the insurgents.
Reporting by Golnar Motevalli in KABUL and Ismail Sameem in KANDAHAR; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Ralph Boulton