Insurgents attack NATO base in eastern Afghanistan

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By Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Insurgents wearing suicide vests tried to storm a major NATO base in eastern Afghanistan but were repelled before they could enter on Saturday — the latest in a series of attacks on coalition targets that appear designed to show the Taliban remain strong despite U.S.-led offensives and an influx of troops.

A bomb hidden in a motorbike also exploded on a busy street in the Imam Sahib district of the northern province of Kunduz, killing 10 people, including a police commander and three children, according to the Interior Ministry.

The assault on the base, which occurred a day after a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. convoy outside Kabul, illustrated the ability of the insurgents to stage attacks throughout Afghanistan as the U.S.-led alliance steps up pressure against the Taliban in its southern stronghold of Kandahar.

Separately, NATO reported that insurgents killed three coalition service members Saturday in southern Afghanistan, but it did not provide further details or nationalities. So far this year, 629 U.S. and international troops have died in Afghanistan, according to a count by The Associated Press.

The violence underscored continued instability in the country a week before a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, to discuss shifting responsibility for security to Afghan forces. President Barack Obama also is due to present a review of his war strategy next month.

The Taliban have targeted several U.S. and NATO installations in recent years with attacks that often do little damage but serve as a reminder that the insurgents are able to strike at the core of the international mission and to enjoy relative freedom of movement across the country despite coalition offensives and an infusion of thousands additional international forces.

Afghan and coalition troops have killed and captured hundreds of insurgents in recent months as they target midlevel commanders in their effort break the back of the insurgency. They also have disrupted insurgent supply routes, especially in the south.

Saturday's attempted ambush of the base in Jalalabad, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Kabul on the main road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistan border, was the second against it in five months.

Several gunmen attacked an Afghan army checkpoint outside the heavily fortified coalition base at dawn, sparking a gunbattle that lasted at least two hours as NATO helicopters fired from above.

Six insurgents were killed, including two who were wearing explosives-laden suicide vests, according to the international military coalition. No NATO or Afghan troops were killed, the coalition said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said there were 14 attackers and 11 of them were killed, though the insurgent group typically gives inflated numbers.

An Associated Press photographer at the scene saw three dead bodies laid out, all in Afghan army uniforms, which militants often wear as a disguise. An AK-47 assault rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a grenade were laid out nearby.

The same base was targeted in June with a car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons although the militants again failed to breach its defenses. Eight militants were killed in that attack.

NATO said it would not be deterred by the attack, the second against an eastern outpost in the past two weeks. Insurgents attacked an observation post in Paktika province on Oct. 30, and NATO said at least 40 Taliban fighters were killed before the attackers retreated.

The coalition "will continue to work with our Afghan partners to establish a safe and peaceful Afghanistan," NATO spokesman U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres.

With NATO focusing its counterinsurgency campaign in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, the security situation in the east and north has steadily been deteriorating.

On May 18, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy in the capital, killing 18 people including six NATO service members — five Americans and a Canadian. The next day, dozens of Taliban militants attacked the main U.S. military base, Bagram Air Field, killing an American contractor in fighting that lasted more than eight hours.

Insurgents often are repelled before they can inflict much damage, but not always.

In one of the worst ground attacks of the war, hundreds of insurgents stormed a remote outpost in the mountainous Nuristan province near the Pakistan border on Oct. 3, 2009, killing eight Americans and three Afghan soldiers. Some 150 insurgents also were killed in the fighting that ensued.

The bombing in Kunduz apparently was targeting a senior police officer as he drove past. Commander Mohammad Manan and one of his bodyguards were among those killed, said Abdul Qayum Ebrahimi, the district police chief.