46 killed in Taliban siege at Afghanistan airport

KANDAHAR (TIP): With final mopping up operations continuing late on Wednesday in Kandahar, 24 hours after Taliban insurgents attacked its airport, 37 civilians and members of Afghan security forces had been killed and 35 wounded, the defence ministry said, even as a key district in neighbouring Helmand province fell to the insurgents.

The attack on the airport, one of the most heavily protected bases in the country, underlined the Taliban’s ability to inflict serious damage on security forces, still shaken by the insurgents’ brief capture of the northern city of Kunduz in September.

In addition, nine Taliban men were killed and another wounded with a final survivor still resisting security forces, the ministry said. One security official said the assailants held some civilians as “human shields”, which had complicated their operation. Adoctor at a local hospital, said 41people (37 civilians and 4 soldiers) had been killed.

In a separate incident in neighbouring Helmand province, where the Taliban has been increasing pressure for weeks, insurgents captured the district of Khanishin, a major control point for drug smuggling routes through the south. Fourteen policemen were killed and 11others wounded, provincial council chief Karim Atal said. The airport in Kandahar has for years been a major hub for operations of international forces, most of whom had withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014-end.

A spokesman for Nato’s resolute support mission said there had been no reports of casualties among the hundreds of international personnel at the air base.

The raid coincided with President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad on Wednesday for the Heart of Asia conference, where he made a plea for more support from neighbours to fight the growing insurgency. The Taliban, fighting to re-establish Islamist rule after US-led military intervention ousted them from power in 2001, have been struggling to settle a leadership dispute of late. But the attack in Kandahar showed their ability to inflict damage and also increase pressure on Ghani’s government to contain the spreading insurgency. Officials said fighters attacked a perimeter area of the huge and heavily fortified complex on Tuesday evening, initially taking up position in a school in a residential area, which houses both a civilian airport and military base.

Earlier, the Taliban said in a statement 150 soldiers had been killed after suicide attackers had entered the base and attacked international forces and their Afghan allies. (Reuters)


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