Four suicide bombers attacked a key base involved in the American military’s Afghanistan surge strategy in Kandahar late Tuesday morning, but the Taliban insurgents detonated or were killed before breaching the Kandahar Airfield perimeter, according to the base commander.
One coalition soldier was slightly wounded by shrapnel from two rocket-propelled grenades fired at a guard tower, which signaled the onset of the attack.
Air Commodore Gordon Moulds, the British Commander of Kandahar Airfield, briefed reporters shortly after the ground attack which began at about 11:15 a.m.
Moulds said that the attackers came on foot from the north, likely through some of the farm fields that surround the base. He said three of the attackers detonated suicide vests outside the compound but could not, or would not, clarify whether the fourth attacker had been killed by return fire from soldiers, part of Kandahar Airfield’s force protection unit.
Moulds said critical air operations never stopped during the one and a half hours that the base was on it’s highest alert, but most all other activities came to full halt — as soldiers, technicians, cafeteria workers and shop workers all huddled together in concrete blast shelters outside nearly every building.
While Kandahar Airfield is the central launching point for the troop surge into Southern Afghanistan, today’s tension was in stark contrast to what some consider the more comfortable and sometimes insulated daily life on the sprawling base, home to 27,000 people from more than 30 different nations — as well as restaurants like TGI Friday’s, KFC and Tim Horton’s.
The “central square” features a pedestrian boardwalk ringed by shops surrounding an open recreational area with basketball courts and a hockey rink.
The last time the base came under attack was two and half months ago.
The Taliban fired as many as five rockets and mortars in an attempt to breach the northern perimeter of the base on May 22. The assault lasted four hours and while no one was killed, military and civilian residents of the base were wounded. The Taliban took credit for the attack, but claimed to have launched 15 rockets on the compound.
Today’s attack also came on the northern perimeter. Mould said he assumed the insurgents chose the location where “they thought we were weakest.” He said there was no specific reason or memorial date associated with the attack but considered it another attempt to garner media attention on the part of the Taliban.
“Our security went like clockwork,” said Mould. “Our procedures were very good and proved very effective again and this is another failed attempt.