Bombers try to storm U.S. base in Afghanistan
By Rahim Faiez - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Aug 19, 2008 8:25:46 EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan — A team of suicide bombers tried unsuccessfully to storm a U.S. military base near Afghanistan-Pakistan border in a daring attack on a major American installation, officials said Tuesday.
Militants failed to gain entry to Camp Salerno in Khost city after launching waves of attacks just before midnight on Monday, said Arsallah Jamal, the governor of Khost.
The attacks came a day after a suicide bomb outside the same base killed 10 civilians and wounded 13 others.
Soldiers on the ground, fighter aircraft and helicopters chased the retreating militants. NATO said its forces identified the attackers about 1,000 yards outside of the base perimeter and launched helicopter gunships.
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, said Afghan soldiers, aided by U.S. troops, chased and surrounded a group of insurgents, and that six militants blew themselves up when cornered. Seven other militants died in those explosions and a rolling gun battle, he said.
“[The Afghan National Army] is saying that anytime we get close to them, they detonate themselves,” Jamal said.
NATO offered a slightly different account, saying three suicide bombers detonated their vests and three more were shot dead. NATO said seven attackers in total were killed.
At least 13 insurgents and two Afghan civilians died in the attack, officials said. Five Afghan soldiers were wounded in the fighting, Azimi said.
The Taliban appeared to confirm the account. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said 15 militants had been dispatched for the attack on Salerno. Seven blew themselves up and eight returned to a Taliban safehouse, he said.
Jamal said the bodies of at least two dead militants were outside the checkpoint leading to the base’s airport. Both had on vests packed with explosives, Jamal said. It wasn’t clear if those militants were among the dead in Azimi’s count.
Militants have long targeted U.S. bases with suicide bombers, but coordinated attacks on such a major base are rare.
The attack comes a day after the top U.S. general in the region, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, issued a rare public warning that militants planned to attack civilian, military and government targets during the celebration of Independence Day on Monday.
Meanwhile, 10 French soldiers were killed in fierce fighting about 30 miles east of Kabul on Tuesday. Qazi Suliman, the district chief in Surobi, said a French patrol came under Taliban attack on Monday, sparking a three-hour gun battle.