An overnight Taliban assault on a key airport in southern Afghanistan killed 37 people and wounded 35 others as clashes continued into Wednesday, Afghan and insurgent officials said.
A group of at least 10 heavily armed suicide bombers wearing uniforms of Afghan security forces Tuesday night stormed the airfield in Kandahar, where there is also a military base that includes troops in NATO’s Resolute Support mission.
The Afghan defense ministry said nine militants had been killed and one was still resisting.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said its fighters entered the base and attacked both local and foreign military personnel there. He claimed the assault left 150 soldiers dead, but the Islamist insurgency usually exaggerates casualty claims.
A NATO spokesman said there are no reports of casualties among its forces, but gave no further details.
Also Wednesday, Taliban militants overran the district of Khanishin in the neighboring Helmand province. At least 14 police officers were killed and 11 others wounded in that battle, provincial council chief Karim Atal said.
The Taliban also released a photo of what it said are the 10 men in military uniforms it sent to attack the Kandahar airport.
Afghan military officials said the insurgents began the assault from an area where residential buildings are located.
Shortly after the attack started Tuesday, Regional Corps commander General Daud Shah Wafadar told VOA the fighting started while he was going home from work.
“I escaped unhurt, but a bodyguard was killed while another was wounded,” he said.
Security forces swiftly engaged the assailants and killed four of them, while the rest took up position in a nearby school, Wafadar said.
He told VOA on Wednesday that the siege was continuing and security forces killed nine attackers while another five were still holed-up in the facility.
Wafadar said those killed and wounded included women and children.
The attack underscored the ability of the Islamist insurgency to undertake high-profile attacks at will.
Taliban attacks have intensified and expanded in Afghanistan this year in the absence of direct support from international combat troops who pulled out from the country last year.
The latest violence in one of the Taliban heartlands comes as Afghanistan’s near and far neighbors gathered in Pakistan to reiterated resolve to enhance security and economic cooperation with the war-ravaged Afghan nation.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, co-chairing the conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, condemned the attack on Kandahar airport.
“The Prime Minister paid rich tributes to the Afghan government for its efforts of eliminating terrorism … terrorism is the common enemy of both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Sharif’s office quoted him as saying.
On the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad, Sharif and Ghani also held a bilateral meeting on Wednesday to discuss ways to end violence in Afghanistan and start peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.
Afghan officials accuse Pakistan’s military of secretly helping the Taliban, charges Islamabad denies.
At the conference, Larry Sampler of the U.S. State Department read out a statement by U.S. deputy secretary of State Antony Blinken that reiterated that the search for a peaceful settlement through reconciliation talks in Afghanistan is of paramount importance in the wake of new emerging threats like the Islamic State in the country.
“It is the surest way of achieving an end to the conflict and the full drawdown of U.S. and foreign troops in Afghanistan. No real victories can be won and sustained when Afghans are fighting Afghans,” said Sampler, quoting Blinken.
Chris Hannas contributed from Washington.