At least 37 civilians were killed and 35 others wounded during a Taliban siege at a heavily fortified airport in the southern province of Kandahar in Afghanistan, according to Afghan Defense Ministry.
The siege took place as Taliban jihadists attempted to fight their way onto a military base adjacent to the airport.
“After nearly 24 hours of fighting against 10 to 15 insurgents armed with suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles at Kandahar Airport, Afghan forces were still battling one surviving fighter Wednesday evening, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Radmanish said,” Stars and Stripes reports. “The airport abuts Kandahar Air Field, a major hub of U.S. and Afghan military operations that officials said the insurgents hoped to reach.”
The report notes that one Afghan soldier was killed and three others wounded, adding that all the Taliban attackers were reportedly killed.
“Afghan and U.S. officials said the insurgents didn’t make it inside the perimeter of the military base, home to roughly 2,000 U.S. troops, instead occupying buildings inside the Kandahar airport grounds,” highlights Stars and Stripes. “After fierce battles with Afghan troops overnight, several surviving attackers were scattered throughout several airport buildings Wednesday and continued fighting with Afghan security forces into the afternoon, officials said.”
Although some Afghan officials declared the fight against the Taliban near Kandahar airfield over after about 21 hours, others were hesitant, reports The New York Times (NYT).
While the Afghan Defense Ministry reported that 37 people had died and 35 others were injured, local officials put the number of fatalities at less than a dozen, notes the Times.
“An Afghan Army officer at the airfield, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had not been permitted to brief the press, said at least one family was still being held hostage, and he feared the casualties would rise further,” reports NYT.
The Taliban sent 10 suicide bombers dressed as Afghan Army officers on the mission, reportedly said Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman.
In a video message posted on their website, the Taliban attackers were wearing white robes and sitting in front the Taliban flag.
The terrorist group also posted a picture of 10 men wearing what appeared to be United States military uniforms.
“It is my suggestion from Obama: Obama, you are not safe in Afghanistan,” one of the attackers said in broken English, brandishing a knife. “When you are go anywhere, we will kill them there. We will finish your technology and kill your power.”
The siege is only the latest in a series of battlefield victories by the Taliban who briefly seized the northern city of Kunduz in September. Kunduz was the first provincial capital to fall into the hands of the Taliban since the militant group was removed from power by the U.S. military in 2001.
After 24 hours of intense fighting that left more than a dozen police officers dead, the Taliban overran the district of Khanashin in nearby Helmand province, according to the provincial council chief, Mohammad Karim Attal.
“At around 2:20 p.m., the district center and the police headquarters fell to the hands of the Taliban,” said Attal, according to the Times. “The security forces retreated to the Afghan Army base which is two kilometers from the district center.”
“Fighting has intensified in Helmand in recent months, with the Taliban reaching the gates of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah,” notes NYT. “Afghan officials have said the Taliban planned this year to carve a corridor in the province and move their leadership council, currently based across the border in Pakistan, into Helmand.”
Kandahar is known as the birthplace of the Taliban. Both Helmand and Kandahar sit on the Afghanistan border with Pakistan, which is accused of providing sanctuary to terrorists. Helmand and Kandahar are considered the deadliest provinces for U.S. and international troops throughout the 14-year-old Afghanistan war.
Acts of violence perpetrated by the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have increased across Afghanistan since President Obama and NATO pulled out most of their forces and declared an end to their combat mission last year.
“The latest violence came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called for help to defeat terrorism, at a regional conference in Pakistan,” notes BBC. “Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, speaking at the conference, called on Pakistan to help restart stalled peace talks with the Taliban.”
The recent Taliban siege of the Kandahar airport comes after reports claimed the recently appointed Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in an internal gunfight near the Pakistani city of Quetta last week.
In July, Mansour was named the new leader after the Taliban confirmed that Mullah Omar had died in 2013.
Mansour’s appointment has threatened to split the Taliban into rival factions.
“There is no evidence that Mansour has been killed,” Afghan President Ghani told reporters Monday, adding, “The incident that occurred should be carefully analyzed.”