Agence France Presse
KANDAHAR: A Taliban suicide squad armed with bombs and rockets attacked the largest US military base in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, injuring one NATO soldier and two civilians.
An initial rocket attack on Kandahar airfield, which left the three wounded, was followed by a suicide bomb attack that sparked an hour-long gun battle, officials said.
Two suicide bombers detonated explosives strapped to their bodies outside the base perimeter, aiming to clear the entrance for the rest of the group to breach the wire, Kandahar provincial spokesman Zalmai Ayobi told AFP.
"Two of them blew themselves up and the other four were killed in the subsequent firefight," he said.
All six attackers wore suicide vests and rode in a tractor, which got stuck in mud before they had reached their target, said the base commander, General Gordon Moulds, in a press conference.
"They then blew up their tractor and tried to approach the airfield on foot and fired two rockets on the airport," said Moulds, who also confirmed that one NATO soldier had been injured by a rocket.
NATO and Ayobi said the militants failed to enter the base, which was immediately locked-down and many civilian workers sent home, while six helicopters flew low overhead.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack.
Kandahar Airfield is the main base in the area for troops fighting the insurgency, which is concentrated in the southern province of Kandahar. It houses tens of thousands of personnel.
It sits on the edge of Kandahar city, the provincial capital, where Taliban are digging in as increasing numbers of US, NATO and Afghan troops try to squeeze the militants out of their spiritual home.
Karzai has said his government will aim to take full responsibility for security in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the president of neighbouring Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, said in an interview published Tuesday that he believed coalition forces "are losing the war".
Kandahar is the focus of a US-led troop surge under a counter-insurgency strategy designed to reverse Taliban momentum, secure major population centres and speed up an end to the increasingly deadly and unpopular war.
Around 30,000 international troops are deployed in the southern Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar, part of a total troop presence numbering nearly 150,000.
The Kandahar base has come under attack many times but the militants have failed to get inside the heavily fortified military compound.
The last major attack on the base was in May when a rocket and ground attack left several people injured.
The attack comes a day after six children were killed and one man was wounded in a suicide bombing in the Dand district of Kandahar, 18 kilometres (11 miles) south of the city, in a failed attack on the district leader.
Also in Kandahar, NATO said foreign and Afghan troops had destroyed a booby-trapped house rigged with trip wires linked to a home-made bomb, and killed several insurgents during operations in restive Zhari district.
NATO troops destroyed the house with an air strike, and an unknown number of insurgents attacking NATO troops with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire were later killed by air and ground troops, the coalition said in a statement.
On Monday in Logar province, where two missing American sailors were found dead last month, NATO forces and Taliban fought a two-hour gun battle that left 10 insurgents dead and five others wounded, said provincial government spokesman Din Mohammad Darwaish.
NATO confirmed the incident but said its initial assessment showed that eight insurgents had died and two had been wounded, while four American soldiers were also hurt.