Militants Attempt Assault on NATO Base in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A group of would-be suicide bombers tried to storm a major NATO base in eastern Afghanistan early Saturday but were repelled before they could enter, officials said.

A bomb hidden in a motorbike also exploded on a busy street in the Imam Sahib district of the northern province of Kunduz, killing 10 people, including a police commander and three children, according to the Interior Ministry.

Separately, NATO reported that insurgents killed three coalition service members Saturday in an attack in southern Afghanistan. The coalition did not provide any further details or the nationalities of the service members killed.

The attacks, which occurred a day after a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. convoy outside Kabul, were the latest show of force by the Taliban as the U.S.-led alliance steps up pressure against the insurgents in the southern stronghold of Kandahar.

Saturday's assault on the NATO base -- the second against it in five months -- underscored the Taliban's ability to strike at the core of the NATO mission and to enjoy relative freedom of movement across the country despite a series of coalition offensives and an infusion of thousands additional international forces.

The insurgents attacked an Afghan army checkpoint outside the Jalalabad base at dawn, sparking a gunbattle that lasted at least two hours as NATO helicopters fired from above.

Six insurgents were killed, including two who were wearing bomb-laden suicide vests, according to the international military coalition. No NATO or Afghan troops were killed, the coalition said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said there were 14 attackers and 11 of them were killed, though the insurgent group typically gives inflated numbers.

An Associated Press photographer at the scene saw three dead bodies laid out, all in Afghan army uniforms, which militants often wear as a disguise. An AK-47 assault rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a grenade were laid out nearby.

NATO said it would not be deterred by the attack, the second against an eastern outpost in the past two weeks. Insurgents attacked an observation post in Paktika province on Oct. 30, and NATO said at least 40 Taliban fighters were killed before the attackers were repelled.

The coalition "will continue to work with our Afghan partners to establish a safe and peaceful Afghanistan," NATO spokesman U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres.

The base attacked Saturday was also targeted in June with a car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons although the militants again failed to breach its defenses. Eight militants were killed in that attack. The base is about 75 miles east of Kabul on the main road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistan border.

With NATO focusing its counterinsurgency campaign in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, the security situation in the east and north has steadily been deteriorating.

The bombing in Kunduz apparently was targeting a senior police officer as he drove past. Commander Mohammad Manan and one of his bodyguards were among those killed, said Abdul Qayum Ebrahimi, the district police chief.

The Taliban spokesman last week boasted in an open letter to the U.S. Congress last week that the hard-line Islamic movement had adapted as NATO poured thousands of troops into the south.
"We opened new fronts in the north and east of the country and beefed up our operations there.

You launched operations for the capture of rural areas, we infiltrated into different cities including the cities of Kandahar and Kabul, expanding our operations there," the letter from Mujahid said.

In Kabul, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met with the Afghan president. The meeting comes ahead of a summit in Lisbon later this month where the main topic of discussion will be shifting authority for security to Afghan forces.

Kouchner will also visit French forces in Afghanistan.

France has about 3,750 troops in the country.