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US, Afghans repel attack against major base

U.S. and Afghan troops repelled an attack Wednesday on one of the biggest NATO bases in eastern Afghanistan by militants who used a suicide car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons in a failed attempt to breach the defenses.
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. and Afghan troops repelled an attack Wednesday on one of the biggest NATO bases in eastern Afghanistan by militants who used a suicide car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons in a failed attempt to breach the defenses.

It was the third ground assault against a major coalition base in Afghanistan in the past five weeks — a sign that the insurgents have not been cowed by U.S. efforts to ramp up the war.

Eight militants were killed in the attack, which occurred at the airport base on the outskirts of Jalalabad about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Kabul on the main road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistan border.

The attack began with a suicide car bomber detonating his explosives near the gate to the base, followed by a half-hour gunbattle, Afghan officials said. An Afghan soldier and one international service member were wounded, NATO said.

Chief NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said the attackers were unable to penetrate the defenses.

"While designed to garner media attention, this attack only temporarily disrupted operations as our forces successfully repelled the attack," said Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, a U.S. spokeswoman.

In a text message to The Associated Press in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said six suicide attackers killed 32 foreign and Afghan security forces. The insurgents often exaggerate their claims.

The Jalalabad attack followed a May 19 ground assault against the giant Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and another three days later against Kandahar Air Field in the south.

Those attacks — though militarily ineffective — have raised concern in the NATO mission about the audacity of the insurgents in the face of overwhelming NATO firepower. In all three assaults, insurgents launched what the military calls complex attacks — those that employ multiple types of weapons.

On June 15, a senior Pentagon official, Michele Flournoy, told a Senate committee that the number of complex attacks had been dropping since February, suggesting that was a sign the Taliban's capabilities were diminishing.

Wednesday's attack occurred hours before the U.S. Senate confirmed Gen. David Petraeus as the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus replaces Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired after he and his aides made unflattering comments about Obama administration figures to Rolling Stone magazine.

Petraeus is due to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday en route to Kabul, the alliance announced.

The Wednesday attack was part of a pattern of rising violence in eastern Afghanistan, despite the U.S. focus on operations in the Taliban's southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

A U.S. service member died of wounds suffered in a gunbattle with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials said without giving further details. That brought to 59 the number of American troops who have died in June in Afghanistan.

Fighting has been under way since Sunday in the eastern province of Kunar with insurgents believed responsible for a roadside bombing that killed five American service members on June 7, according to U.S. statements.

Two American soldiers were killed Sunday in the first day of the operation. About 600 U.S. and Afghan troops are taking part, the U.S. statement said.

Insurgents with close ties to al-Qaida — such as the Haqqani group and followers of ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — operate in the east along with mainstream Taliban fighters.

In the south, NATO said 43 insurgents had been killed or captured in a three-day operation aimed at disrupting militants in Panjwai, a Taliban stronghold near Kandahar city. The operation is part of the plan to bolster security in Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the former Taliban headquarters.

Afghan and international troops have reportedly captured more than 115 suspected insurgents in the past two months, including more than 15 mid- and senior-level militant leaders, and destroyed four roadside bomb factories, according to NATO.

Wednesday also marked the first anniversary of the capture of Spc. Bowe W. Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, the only American service member held prisoner by the insurgents. Bergdahl was discovered missing during his unit's roll-call the following day.

"Since he was captured on June 30, 2009, it has been a top priority for U.S. and coalition forces to find him, recover him, and bring him home safely," said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, deputy chief of staff for communication. "We continue our efforts to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return."

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met Wednesday with President Hamid Karzai to discuss legal issues including the ongoing fight against corruption, which has undermined public trust in the government.

A statement released by Karzai's office said the president complained to Holder that awarding contracts to government officials, political figures and parliamentarians was helping fuel the "negative phenomenon" of corruption. Karzai said Holder indicated that the U.S. government planned to review and reform the contract process in Afghanistan.

Karzai also complained that contracts were being awarded to private security firms, which he said undermined efforts to build a strong national army and police force.

Holder encouraged Karzai to continue efforts to improve governance and law enforcement "as much work remains to be done."


Associated Press Writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.