JALALABAD: Taliban insurgents launched a major suicide attack Sunday against a Nato base at an Afghan city airport, killing five people and wounding several foreign troops, officials said.
Nine attackers were also killed, some blowing themselves up in two vehicles at the perimeter gate of the Jalalabad airport and others shot as they attempted to storm the base, police said.
Nato helicopters fired on the insurgents as they followed up the car bombing with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms fire.
The Taliban claimed insurgents had entered the airport, which is close to the eastern border with Pakistan, but this was denied by Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).
“Insurgents including suicide bombers attacked the perimeter of the Jalalabad air base this morning,” a spokesman told AFP. “None of the attackers succeeded breaching the perimeter.
“I can confirm that there were helicopters involved in the coalition response to the attack.
“A number of Isaf forces were wounded,” he added, noting that it was Isaf policy not to disclose the number of those injured.
The airport complex has multiple layers of security, with the Nato base set well back from the first entrance, which an Afghan official said had been breached.
Three Afghan guards were killed and 14 wounded, while two civilians also died and four others were injured, police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal told AFP.
“First there was a car bombing next to the entrance followed by gun attack by the insurgents,” a senior Afghan security official said. “They couldn’t reach Nato forces and they were killed in the area between the first and second gates.”
The Taliban claimed their militants had entered the airport and caused heavy casualties.
“First a fedayee (suicide bomber) mujahid... detonated a car bomb causing the enemy heavy casualties and losses and removed all the barriers,” the Taliban said on their website.
“After the attack other fedayee mujahids entered the base... and started attacking the invading forces in the base.”The hardline Taliban Islamists have waged an 11-year insurgency against the Afghan government, which is backed by 100,000 Nato troops, since being overthrown in a US-led invasion for harbouring al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The airport has come under attack on two previous occasions this year.
On February 27, six civilians, an Afghan soldier and two local guards were killed in a suicide car bomb attack, but Nato troops escaped unhurt.
The airport also came under attack on April 15, when the Taliban launched their spring offensive with a series of commando-style assaults across Afghanistan.
The latest assault comes as the usual summer fighting season should be drawing to a close and shows that the insurgency remains resilient as Nato forces prepare to withdraw in 2014.
With the end of the US “surge” in Afghanistan, the Taliban have survived the biggest military onslaught the West will throw at them.
The last of the extra 33,000 soldiers President Barack Obama deployed nearly three years ago left in September, and the vast majority of the remaining Nato force of more than 100,000 will follow by the end of 2014.
One of the aims of the surge was to put so much pressure on the Taliban that they would come to the negotiating table, but the insurgents called off early contacts in March, accusing the United States of constantly changing its position.