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Taliban carries out rare frontal attack on U.S. base in Afghanistan

June 19, 2012 |  9:06 am

KABUL, Afghanistan -- In a determined show of force in their traditional heartland, Taliban insurgents in Kandahar province staged a rare frontal attack on a U.S. base on Tuesday and hours later struck a major police checkpoint, Afghan and Western officials said.

In neighboring Helmand province, a roadside bomb killed eight civilians, women and children among them, officials said Tuesday. And military officials confirmed that the latest victim of a deadly “green-on-blue” shooting a day earlier in Kandahar’s Zhari district was an American, and that nine other U.S. troops were injured in the attack by three men in Afghan police uniforms.

As U.S. troop strength in volatile southern Afghanistan begins to diminish, insurgents appear to be seeking to regain territory from which they were ousted during an American military surge two years ago. That buildup pushed U.S. troop numbers to 100,000; by the end of the summer they are to fall to 68,000.

The predawn attack on a remote American base in Kandahar’s Shah Wali Kot district was unusually brazen, a departure from the hit-and-run strikes generally favored by the Taliban. Insurgents armed with heavy weapons briefly managed to breach the installation’s outer security perimeter, the Kandahar governor’s office said.

The death toll was lopsided, with seven attackers killed and no fatalities reported among the troops inside. But the Taliban movement, which claimed responsibility, insisted that it showed the vulnerability of isolated NATO bases.

Separately, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said a Western service member was killed in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan’s south, but provided no details.

Soon after the base attack, insurgents struck a large police checkpoint on the outskirts of Kandahar city, the south’s main urban hub, setting off a fierce gun battle. Afghan officials said three policemen were killed, along with four attackers.

The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, condemned the roadside bombing in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province that took place late Monday. Insurgent-planted improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are generally aimed at Afghan or Western forces but more often kill and maim civilians. The eight people killed were thought to be members of the same family.

In the capital, Kabul, the main intelligence service and the attorney general’s office said that two men had been charged in connection with the bloodiest sectarian attack of the 10-year conflict, the bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine last December. Nearly 60 people were killed and more than 160 others injured.
Authorities said the two had admitted to having transported the suicide bomber from Pakistan to Kabul, where the attack took place.


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-- Laura King.

Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.