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Taliban attack airport, base in east Afghanistan

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents attacked the main airport and a foreign military base at Jalalabad in Afghanistan’s east on Saturday, Reuters witnesses and police said, with up to 10 of the attackers killed.

The assault in Jalalabad came a day after a suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of Afghan and NATO-led troops on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, signaling a possible spike in violence in the lead-up to two important international events regarding the conflict in Afghanistan.

NATO leaders gather in Lisbon next week, with Afghanistan set to be top of the agenda as European members reassess their commitments amid flagging support for the war back home.

U.S. President Barack Obama will also review his Afghanistan war strategy next month and is committed to starting a gradual troop withdrawal of U.S. troops from July 2011.

Violence is at its worst across Afghanistan since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, with civilian and military casualties at record levels despite the presence of 150,000 foreign troops.

Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the fall of the Taliban regime in Kabul to U.S.-backed Afghan forces which overthrew the Islamist government for harboring al Qaeda before and after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Smoke was seen rising from the airport and explosions and gunfire were heard, a Reuters witness said. Helicopters flew overhead during the attack and the bodies of at least one suicide bomber and one other attacker were seen near the airport.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had repelled a simultaneous attack on its forward operating base in Behsud near the airport. Afghan and ISAF troops responded after coming under small-arms fire, ISAF said.

“According to initial reports, eight insurgents were killed by the combined force. One was wearing a suicide vest,” it said in a statement, adding there were no indications of Afghan or ISAF casualties.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said by telephone from an undisclosed location that 14 suicide bombers were involved in the attacks and that as many as 30 foreign soldiers had been killed. The Taliban often exaggerate the details of attacks and play down the numbers of their own casualties.

Afghan army officer Abdullah Hamdard said earlier that at least seven Taliban fighters had attacked the base.

“Three fighters were killed and we are searching for the rest,” Hamdard told Reuters.

A Reuters witness said the bodies of three fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniforms and carrying rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and a heavy machinegun, were lying near the base.

Reporting by Mohammad Rafiq in Jalalabad, and Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Saboor in Kabul; Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski