Afghan forces rise to challenge by putting down Taliban airport attack
Elite US-trained troops storm hideouts to put down Taliban assault on Kabul airport, seen as a sign of their growing professionalism
Afghan security forces have been praised for overwhelming Taliban insurgents who launched a pre-dawn grenade and gun attack on Kabul airport yesterday.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up and all five other attackers were killed when elite troops stormed two half-built mansions where the militants were holed up near the airport's perimeter fence.
The forces' response was hailed as a sign of their growing professionalism as they take over responsibility from 100,000 US-led foreign combat troops who will pull out by the end of next year.
President Hamid Karzai, who is visiting Qatar, highlighted the effectiveness of the foreign-trained units after only two civilians suffered minor injuries in the attack. "Brave Afghan security forces have the ability to repel any enemy attack and can protect people and their country," Karzai said
Loud explosions from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and sporadic bursts of small-arms fire continued for about four hours after the fighting awoke residents of the Afghan capital at 4.30am.
"There were seven assailants - two died detonating themselves and five others were killed," Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said.
The heavily guarded, sprawling airport, which has both civilian and military terminals, contains a large base for the US-led Nato coalition deployed to help Afghan forces thwart the 12-year insurgency.
The airport itself was not damaged and reopened soon after the fighting was over, airport chief Yaqub Rassuli said. "There was no damage to the runway. Some shrapnel fell nearby, but we have cleared it away," he said.
Two Afghan civilians were wounded, but there were no deaths among either security forces or civilians, the Interior Ministry said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the insurgents were targeting Nato headquarters.
The international military coalition said it was assessing the situation and had no immediate reports of casualties or damage. The US-led Nato coalition's Joint Command headquarters at the airport runs the day-to-day operations of the war against insurgents. The airport's military side is also used for the US-led International Security Assistance Force, as the coalition is known, for transport and other aircraft.
Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said there was no damage to local facilities or helicopters stationed at the airport. He attributed that to the quick killing by security forces of an insurgent who was firing rocket-propelled grenades at the facility.
The attack began with a loud blast.
"It started just after dawn prayers and I counted about a dozen explosions, mostly RPG fire, coming from near the airport," said Emayatullah, who lives next to the airport.
A Kabul police spokesman said that after the initial blast, at least five insurgents occupied two buildings and started firing RPGs and automatic weapons.
The Taliban have launched intense attacks across the country, testing Afghan security forces as foreign combat troops pull back more than a decade after the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime for sheltering al-Qaeda's leadership after the Islamic extremist group launched the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
The last big attack in Kabul was on May 24, when six suicide bombers attacked a guest house belonging to a UN agency, killing three people.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press