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Militants assault U.S. base in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants tried to blast their way into an American base in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, striking before dawn with rocket-propelled grenades and a car bomb.

All four attackers were killed as well as two truck drivers parked nearby, said provincial Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh. Two Afghan security guards were wounded.

The militants failed to breach the gate of the base in Panjshir province's Rakha district, though they did hit a security tower with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Three of the men attacked on foot, shooting, while a fourth detonated the explosives-laden vehicle outside the gate, Jangalbagh said. The blast hit two fuel tankers which were waiting to enter the base, killing the Afghan drivers inside, he said.

A NATO spokeswoman confirmed the attack but said there were no American deaths or injuries and no significant damage to facilities.

"There was a complex attack attempted, but it was repelled," Capt. Ebony Calhoun said. She said the guards' wounds were not life-threatening but they had been evacuated to a larger U.S. base for treatment. The base houses a provincial reconstruction team — a mix of military and international civilians who work to improve provincial governance, services and infrastructure.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message sent to The Associated Press.

NATO downplayed the significance of such spectacular strikes on Saturday, presenting figures that showed headline-grabbing assaults account for only 1 percent of attacks in Afghanistan and that militant activity is down overall.

Insurgent attacks between January and September were 8 percent lower than the first nine months of 2010, according to figures supplied by a senior official with NATO forces who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the information.

But while violent attacks are down overall, assassinations have increased 60 percent for the same period with 131 people killed so far this year, according to the official.

And while NATO reports little change in civilian casualties over the nine-month period, figures from the U.N. show an increase in civilian deaths.

Many of the highest profile attacks have been perpetrated by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied group operating out of Pakistan, according to NATO.

Eleven out of the last 15 attacks in Kabul came from the Haqqanis and were directed and organized out of Pakistan, the NATO official said.

The Panjshir attack followed on the heels of violence Friday which left at least 30 dead across Afghanistan.

NATO reported Saturday that 23 insurgents were killed in five separate operations throughout the east. In the largest strike, seventeen insurgents were killed in an airstrike in Kunar province. The remaining six deaths were in operations in Wardak, Kunar and Ghazni provinces.

In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bombing killed three Afghan border police officers and one civilian. The bomber blew up his explosives-packed car Friday afternoon while it was being inspected at a checkpoint.

The explosion happened in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, in the early evening, said Gen. Abdul Raziq, the head of the border police in the south.

The checkpoint had been set up because of an intelligence warning that an attack was imminent, provincial government spokesman Zalmai Ayubi said.

Three NATO service members were also killed Friday in separate attacks, according to statements from the military coalition, making 11 killed so far this month and at least 464 since the beginning of the year.

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