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Militants assault US base in Afghanistan

Omar Sobhani/ReutersA US soldier kept watch yesterday at the site of an attack by insurgents in Panjshir Province in eastern Afghanistan. Omar Sobhani/ReutersA US soldier kept watch yesterday at the site of an attack by insurgents in Panjshir Province in eastern Afghanistan. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)
By Rahim Faiez
Associated Press / October 16, 2011

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KABUL - Militants tried to blast their way into a US base in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, striking before dawn with rocket-propelled grenades and a car bomb.

All four attackers were killed, as were two truck drivers parked nearby, said the provincial police chief, General Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh. Two Afghan security guards were wounded.

The militants failed to breach the gate of the base in Panjshir Province’s Rakha district, though they did hit a security tower with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Three of the men attacked on foot, shooting, while a fourth detonated the explosives-laden vehicle outside the gate, Jangalbagh said. The blast hit two fuel tankers that were waiting to enter the base, killing the Afghan drivers inside, he said.

A NATO spokeswoman confirmed the attack but said there were no American deaths or injuries.

“There was a complex attack attempted, but it was repelled,’’ Captain Ebony Calhoun said. She said the guards’ wounds were not life-threatening but they had been evacuated to a larger US base for treatment. The base houses a provincial reconstruction team - a mix of military and international civilians who work to improve provincial governance, services, and infrastructure.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message sent to The Associated Press.

NATO downplayed the significance of such spectacular strikes yesterday, presenting figures that showed headline-grabbing assaults account for 1 percent of attacks in Afghanistan and that militant activity is down overall.

Insurgent attacks between January and September were 8 percent lower than the first nine months of 2010, according to figures supplied by a senior official with NATO forces who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the information.

But while violent attacks are down overall, assassinations have increased 60 percent for the same period, with 131 people killed so far this year, according to the official.

And while NATO reports little change in civilian casualties over the nine-month period, figures from the UN show an increase in civilian deaths.

Many of the highest profile attacks have been perpetrated by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied group operating out of Pakistan, according to NATO.

Eleven out of the last 15 attacks in Kabul came from the Haqqanis and were directed and organized out of Pakistan, the NATO official said.

The Panjshir attack followed on the heels of violence Friday that left at least 30 dead across Afghanistan. Yesterday, two NATO service members were killed in separate insurgent attacks in the south. NATO confirmed the deaths in a statement but did not release further details.

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