REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and artillery staged a fierce six-hour siege of an American-run base near the Pakistan border, but military officials said Wednesday that the attack was repelled and as many as 70 assailants were killed.
No casualties were reported among the U.S. and Afghan forces inside Combat Outpost Marga, in the Barmal district of Paktika province. But the strike, which began Tuesday evening and continued into the early hours of Wednesday, reflected the continuing intensity of combat in eastern Afghanistan, which lies close to Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Insurgents are often reluctant to engage better-armed American forces in a direct frontal attack such as this one, but Afghan officials said the insurgents likely had hoped to score a propaganda coup by penetrating the isolated base or even overrunning it.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and it was not clear which insurgent faction was involved.
Paktika is part of the traditional operations area for the Haqqani network, based across the border in Pakistan. A Paktika provincial spokesman, Mukhlis Afghan, said the attackers were believed to be Taliban. But U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chad Carroll, a spokesman for the NATO force’s eastern command, said forces at the site were still working to establish the attackers' affiliation.
Carroll described the attack, which began soon after darkness fell, as complex, with an unusually large force of about 100 insurgent fighters striking simultaneously from different directions, using an array of weaponry.
Clashes generally taper off as the early Afghan winter takes hold, as it has begun to do, but the attack suggested that the Taliban and other groups intend to try to keep up the fight into the cold-weather months.
The estimate of between 60 and 70 insurgents killed came from the Paktika provincial spokesman. The NATO force did not give a figure of its own, but Carroll said the Afghan count appeared to be fairly accurate.
-- Laura King