Gunmen set off a car bomb and fired rocket propelled grenades at one of the biggest NATO bases in Afghanistan on Wednesday in a brazen daylight attack claimed by the hardline Islamist Taliban.
Several gunmen were killed in the strike on the Jalalabad base in eastern Afghanistan, and two service personnel were injured, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The attack came just days before US General David Petraeus is due to take up his post as NATO commander in Afghanistan following the dramatic sacking of Stanley McChrystal for insubordination.
“Jalalabad airfield is under attack,” said ISAF spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Iain Baxter. “It is still going on.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed claimed the attack in a telephone call to AFP.
Baxter said however that the gunmen were unable to penetrate the base.
“Afghan and ISAF forces repelled a number of insurgents when they attacked Jalalabad airfield this morning using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms fire,” an ISAF statement said.
“This was not only an attack on a combined Afghan and ISAF facility, it was also an attack on the people of Afghanistan,” it said.
Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesman for the government of the province of Nangarhar, of which Jalalabad is the capital, said suicide bombers were also involved in the strike.
Jalalabad is one of NATO’s largest bases in Afghanistan, after Kandahar in the south and Bagram, north of Kabul, which have both been attacked by insurgents in recent months.
Concerns about the progress of the US-led war have mounted following the dramatic sacking of McChrystal and an increasing death toll among foreign troops.
A total of 100 NATO troops serving in Afghanistan have been killed in June, making it the deadliest month for the alliance since the US-led invasion of 2001 that ousted the hardline Islamist Taliban.
The toll for the year to date is 320, compared with 520 in all of 2009, according to an AFP tally based on figures kept by the independent icasualties.org website.
Petraeus, who is expected in Afghanistan at the weekend, sought to reassure an anxious US Congress on Tuesday that the NATO-led troops are making headway in the country, amid fraying public support for the war.
Petraeus, the United States’ most revered military officer, told senators the coalition force “has achieved progress in several locations” this year but warned them to brace for a “tough fight” ahead against Taliban insurgents.
Wednesday’s attack also coincided with a visit to Kabul by US Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss efforts to battle corruption and enforce the rule of law in Afghanistan, just days after billions of dollars in US aid was blocked because of graft concerns