A team of suicide bombers tried to storm a U.S. military base near the border with Pakistan in a daring insurgent attack on a major American installation, officials said Tuesday. Six suicide bombers attacked the base and three detonated their vests when surrounded, NATO officials said.
Afghan officials said at least 13 militants died in the attack, including six suicide bombers. NATO offered a slightly different account, saying three suicide bombers detonated their vests and three more were shot dead. NATO said seven attackers in total were killed.
The militants failed to gain entry to Camp Salerno in Khost city after launching waves of attacks just before midnight on Monday, said Arsallah Jamal, the governor of Khost. The base is just a few miles away from Pakistan's border.
The attack came one day after a suicide bomber outside the same base killed 10 civilians and wounded 13 others.
Soldiers on the ground, fighter aircraft and helicopters were chasing the retreating militants. NATO said its forces identified the attackers about 1,000 yards outside of the base perimeter and launched helicopter gunships.
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, said Afghan soldiers, aided by U.S. troops, chased and surrounded a group of insurgents, and six militants in suicide vests blew themselves up when cornered. Seven other militants died in those explosions and a rolling gun battle, he said.
"(The Afghan National Army) is saying that anytime we get close to them, they detonate themselves," Jamal said.
The Taliban appeared to confirm that account. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the militants dispatched 15 militants for the attack on Salerno, and seven blew themselves up and eight returned to a Taliban safe-house.
Jamal said the bodies of at least two dead militants were outside the checkpoint leading to the base's airport, both of whom had suicide vests on. It wasn't clear if those militants were among the dead in Azimi's count.
Two Afghan civilians also died in the fighting, Jamal said.
Militants have long targeted U.S. bases with suicide bombers, but coordinated attacks on such a major base are rare.
In related developments: Afghan officials said Tuesday that 10 French soldiers had been killed in a battle outside Kabul, including four soldiers who were kidnapped by insurgents. The officials said the battle happened over two days in the Surobi district of Kabul province, about 30 miles outside of the capital of Kabul. One Afghan official told The Associated Press that 10 French soldiers were killed. Another official said that four of those soldiers had been kidnapped by insurgents and killed. Both spoke on condition they were not identified because they were not supposed to release the information.Afghan officials said Tuesday that Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had rushed to Kabul for unscheduled meetings the day after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation. The officials said Kayani was to meet with Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Rahim Wardak, and spoke with President Hamid Karzai over the phone in Kabul on Tuesday. Kayani was also likely to meet with the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan. A bomb blast outside the emergency gate of a hospital in Pakistan's volatile northwest killed at least 12 people and wounded 15 others Tuesday, police said. The attack added to the political uncertainty after Musharraf's resignation in a country grappling with Islamist extremist threats. It also occurred amid an ongoing military offensive in a nearby tribal region that has left hundreds dead and spurred promises of militant revenge. An Associated Press reporter at the scene of Dera Ismail Khan District Hospital saw 18 bodies on the ground.
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