Taliban fighters, including suicide bombers, attacked Kabul's airport Monday morning. The airport handles civilian air traffic, but also houses NATO military facilities. The insurgent attack is the latest in a series of strikes targeting international organizations operating in Afghanistan.
Explosions and rocket fire were heard in the capital early Monday morning, as seven Taliban militants attacked the Kabul airport, apparently in an attempt to strike at NATO operations there.
In a message to the media, the Taliban claims responsibility for the attack, which it says was aimed at the “foreign military side” of the airport.
The message also claims to have inflicted major casualties, but Afghan officials say that no Afghan forces died in the fight. The Taliban often exaggerates casualty numbers.
Taliban assaults on the strongly guarded airport are unusual. But the Taliban recently have ramped up their annual so-called Spring offensive as national forces continue to take on more security responsibilities ahead of international troop withdrawal in 2014.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi says seven militants, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, tried and failed to penetrate the airport.
"Our forces today proved that we can foil any kind of attack, especially those complex and difficult terrorist attacks like today," said Sediqqi.
As explosions and gunfire shook the area, security forces quickly shut down roads leading to the airport and canceled all flights leaving the capital.
Kabul police Chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, says Afghan security forces successfully cleared the area after a four-hour gun battle with the militants.
He thanked God the attack did not affect the installations or the airplanes at the airport. There was just one empty structure that was hit.
On the same day, six suicide bombers launched an attack against three provincial government buildings in southern Zabul province, killing three police and wounding another 18 people.
In addition to hitting Afghan targets, in May Taliban militants attacked International Organization for Migration in Kabul and offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.
The ICRC temporarily withdrew some of its non-Afghan staff as a precaution. Afghanistan is one of the ICRC’s biggest operations, with some 1,800 staff members working in 17 locations around the country.
The United Nations says the last two weeks of May saw a sharp increase in civilian casualties in the conflict compared to the same period last year.
Analyst Omar Sharifi of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies says the Taliban is trying to establish its power during the transition period.
“The whole idea of these high-profile attacks is - one of the main ideas behind it - is to disrupt the transition process and more importantly to remain relevant in Afghan political development currently, because we are in the year of elections campaign. And, if they manage to disrupt this and remain relevant then they think they will probably have an effect in post-14 [after 2014] developments,” he said.
Sharifi says that there is not one monolithic Taliban command directing the militant attacks, but rather several command groups fighting for power in different areas of the country.
Afghanistan is to hold national elections in April 2014, just months before the final pullout of all international combat forces in the country.