KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A daylong siege at a heavily fortified airport in southern Afghanistan has left at least 37 civilians dead and another 35 wounded as Taliban militants tried to fight their way onto an adjacent military base, an Afghan Defense Ministry official said Wednesday.
After nearly 24 hours of fighting against 10 to 15 insurgents armed with suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles at Kandahar Airport, Afghan forces were still battling one surviving fighter Wednesday evening, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Radmanish said. The airport abuts Kandahar Air Field, a major hub of U.S. and Afghan military operations that officials said the insurgents hoped to reach.
One Afghan soldier was killed and three others injured. All the other attackers reportedly were killed.
Afghan and U.S. officials said the insurgents didn’t make it inside the perimeter of the military base, home to roughly 2,000 U.S. troops, instead occupying buildings inside the Kandahar airport grounds. After fierce battles with Afghan troops overnight, several surviving attackers were scattered throughout several airport buildings Wednesday and continued fighting with Afghan security forces into the afternoon, officials said.
Passengers from at least one commercial flight were caught up in the attacks Tuesday and were stuck in the passenger terminal until the fighting ceased.
Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan, said no American or coalition troops were injured or killed in the attack.
Kandahar Air Field, a former hub for tens of thousands of troops and contractors, is located in southern Afghanistan’s largest city and the Taliban’s spiritual heartland. The Taliban, who often exaggerate the effects of their attacks, claimed responsibility on their website, saying five attackers killed scores of international and Afghan troops.
The attack is another blow to the Afghan security forces, who have been stretched by a stubborn insurgency since the international military coalition withdrew the bulk of its troops. They were dealt perhaps their biggest blow of the war in late September, when Taliban fighters overran the major northern city of Kunduz. It took two weeks of fighting and help from American special forces troops and coalition airpower for Afghan forces to fully regain control of the city.
Roughly 10,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, largely in a training and advisory role, though a large proportion of them are also conducting counterterrorism operations. Continued fierce fighting between insurgents and Afghan troops prompted President Barack Obama to announce in October that he would extend the American military mission and keep the number of troops at roughly the current level into the coming year.