Kandahar, Oct 27: Taliban armed with guns and explosives struck a US-run base in Kandahar today, with blasts and gunfire reverberating in the southern Afghan city, police and witnesses said.
A group of “three to four” armed men, possibly with suicide vests, had taken up positions in an empty compound that was once used by the USAID development agency and were firing on the base, according to police.
A NATO spokesman in Kandahar said the military had reports that one civilian foreign national and one Afghan soldier had been wounded in the attack, while helicopters had been deployed.
“They have parked two explosives-laden motorcycles and one minivan near the compound.... Police have arrived at the scene and are trying to diffuse the explosives,” said police spokesman Ghorzang, who goes by only one name.
Five explosions were earlier heard at the base, and a sixth huge explosion later rocked the area near the base, throwing huge plumes of smoke into the sky. The road leading to the base had been blocked, but a witness who owns a nearby shop said he had heard sporadic gunfire.
“The armed men have taken position in a building near the PRT (provincial reconstruction team) base and are firing on the base,” said shop owner Abdullah. PRT missions are made up of military and civilian officials.
A senior police official speaking anonymously said a security meeting attended by the Kandahar provincial governor, security officials and commanders from NATO's International Security Assistance Force had been taking place at the PRT base at the time, but none of those present was hurt.
The neighbouring local branch of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) was also hit by one of the explosions, but its chief Eisa Mohammad said that shooting had ended and none of its officials was injured.
“Security forces have surrounded the compound where the attackers are holed up... we are not sure if the attackers are alive or dead,” he said.
A spokesman for the interior ministry, Siddiq Siddiqui, confirmed that the attack had ended and that a bomb-laden vehicle nearby was being investigated.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the gunmen were armed with suicide vests. “A group of our men have attacked Kandahar PRT base, as well as an NDS (Afghan intelligence) office nearby. Our men are very well armed, they are suicide attackers,” said spokesman Yusuf Ahmadi.
The Taliban militia, which has been leading a bloody insurgency since US-led troops ousted them from power in late 2001, has increasingly carried out coordinated attacks on high-profile Western and government targets.
Separately, in Kandahar province's outlying district of Panjwayi, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside a joint US and Afghan police base, said district governor Haji Fazludin Agha, but NATO's alliance force said no attacker entered the base and there were no casualties.
And in the western Kandahar district of Zhari, armed militants attacked a NATO fuel tanker, killing the driver and setting the vehicle on fire, said district governor Nyaz Mohammad Sarhadi.
Today's attack in the Taliban's old capital comes a day after a government body announced a new list of provinces likely to see handovers from NATO to Afghan control as part of a timetable for the departure of foreign forces.