By PATRICK QUINN
Associated Press writer
The Taliban claimed responsibility Saturday for an attack on a sprawling British base in southern Afghanistan that killed two U.S. Marines and wounded several other troops, saying it was to avenge an anti-Islamic film that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and also because Britain’s Prince Harry is serving there.
The U.S.-led NATO coalition said in a statement that nearly 20 insurgents armed with guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosive vests infiltrated the perimeter of Camp Bastion. The huge British base is adjacent to Camp Leatherneck, which houses U.S. Marine operations in southern Helmand province.
The coalition said the attack, which began shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, killed two NATO service members, wounded several others and damaged multiple aircraft and structures.
Coalition forces returned fire and killed 18 militants. One other insurgent, who was wounded, has been detained and is being given medical treatment, the coalition said. NATO service members, who cleared the base of attackers early Saturday, were still assessing the damage to aircraft and buildings on the air field.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, said: “We attacked that base because Prince Harry was also on it and so they can know our anger.” The group often tailors its claims to the news of the day.
Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is based at Camp Bastion. A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defense told the AP that Prince Harry was unharmed in the attack, which according to Britain’s Press Association took place two kilometers (one mile) from the section of the complex where the prince was located. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
Capt. Harry Wales, as the prince is known in the military, is serving a four-month combat deployment as a gunner on an Apache helicopter. Harry, who turns 28 on Saturday, is expected to start flying Apache missions this week. This is his second tour in Afghanistan.
In its statement, the International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s Afghan mission, said insurgents attacked “with both small arms fire and indirect fire killing two ISAF service members and causing damage to buildings and aircraft.” Indirect fire usually refers to mortars or rockets.
Jamie Graybeal, a coalition spokesman, confirmed that two U.S. Marines died in the attack, but he said that how they died remained under investigation. Graybeal said two insurgents wearing suicide vests were part of the assaulting force, although he did not say whether they blew themselves up.
It was unclear what the insurgents hoped to accomplish in attacking Camp Bastion, one of the largest and most heavily defended military facilities in Afghanistan.
Bastion is located in a remote desert area northwest of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand. It is the hub for all British operations in the province and along with Leatherneck houses thousands of combat troops and Marines, including Danish and Estonian forces.
Afghanistan’s southern region has been a hotbed of the insurgency and attacks against foreign forces occur daily, although the Taliban have largely been routed in its capital and larger towns. Helmand remains an active battlefield between insurgents and NATO forces and for years has been the site of some of the war’s bloodiest engagements.
There were few protests against the film in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday. The largest on Friday involved several hundred people in eastern Nangarhar province. On Saturday, a few hundred of university students protested in the eastern city of Khost, shouting “Death to America” and burning an effigy of President Barack Obama.
The Afghan government has indefinitely blocked YouTube to prevent Afghans from viewing a video clip of the film that was posted on the Internet site, said Khair Mohammad Faizi, a spokesman for the Communication Ministry. He said it will remain blocked until the video is taken down.
Other Google services, including gmail, were also blocked in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday. Faizi did not comment on this.
In other violence, a police vehicle hit a roadside bomb on Saturday during a routine patrol in Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, killing a police inspector and wounding two other policemen, according to Kandahar provincial spokesman Jawed Faisal.
Twelve other civilians from two families were killed on Friday when their car hit a roadside bomb in Gereskh district of Helmand province, according to the office of President Hamid Karzai.
Separately, the Afghan parliament on Saturday voted to approve three of four individuals Karzai nominated to fill senior security positions.
The lawmakers approved Assadullah Khalid to lead the intelligence agency despite allegations that he has committed human rights abuses in the past. Khalid was the minister of border and tribal affairs and also has been governor of Kandahar and Ghazni provinces.
Human Rights Watch has reported allegations that forces under Khalid’s authority operated a private prison in Kandahar from 2005 to 2008 in which detainees were beaten and tortured with electric shocks. The New York-based group said Khalid also has been accused of corruption and high-level involvement in the country’s narcotics trafficking. Khalid has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
The Afghan parliament also approved former Interior Minister Bishmullah Mohammadi as defense minister and Mushtaba Patang, a former police chief in northern Afghanistan, as the new minister of interior.
Azizullah Din Mohammad, a former mayor of the Afghan capital Kabul, was not approved as Khalid’s replacement as minister of tribal and border affairs.
Robert Burns contributed from Washington, Amir Shah from Kabul and Mirwais Khan from Kandahar.