Published — Tuesday 3 September 2013
Last update 15 September 2013 9:17 am
JALALABAD, Afghanistan: Taleban suicide bombers and gunmen dressed as Afghan police attacked a US base near the Pakistani border on Monday and set dozens of parked NATO supply vehicles ablaze, officials said.
All three attackers were shot dead by helicopter gunships during the assault on the base in Nangarhar province, but no member of the US-led NATO mission was killed.
“Our investigation shows some 41 vehicles — supply trucks and vehicles belonging to US forces — were destroyed in the attack,” Nangarhar provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said after the attack near the Torkham border crossing.
“Magnetic bombs were attached to some vehicles and detonated,” he told a press conference.
“Three armed insurgents were killed by US helicopter gunships. Weapons, suicide vests and hand grenades were found afterwards.” A senior Afghan border police official also told AFP that 30 to 50 vehicles had been burnt.
Torkham is next to Pakistan’s Khyber Pass and straddles a key NATO overland supply route into landlocked Afghanistan from the nearest sea port of Karachi.
“There were a series of explosions that occurred in the vicinity of a forward operating base in Nangarhar province,” said a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The military later described it as an “attempted but unsuccessful coordinated attack by enemy forces.”
“There were three enemy forces killed during the attack. We can confirm that no ISAF personnel were killed as a result of this incident,” it said in a statement.
An AFP photographer saw the bodies of three dead attackers wearing Afghan police uniforms.
NATO combat troops are gradually withdrawing from Afghanistan and are due to finish their mission by the end of 2014, after presidential elections next April.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taleban, which is leading a 12-year insurgency against Western troops and the Afghan government, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to the media.
The Taleban have launched a spate of attacks across the country in recent days, with scores killed in suicide bombings, ambushes and rocket attacks. They also killed five aid workers in the west.
On Sunday the bullet-riddled bodies of seven civilians kidnapped one week earlier by the Taleban were found in Ghazni province just south of the capital.
Also on Sunday, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan and potential candidate for next year’s presidential election, Omar Daudzai, was appointed acting interior minister.
President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion removed the Taleban from power, is barred from standing for a third term.
Interior minister Mujtaba Patang was voted out by parliament in July over accusations that he had failed to thwart the threat from Taleban rebels.
Afghanistan’s 350,000-strong security forces are suffering a steep rise in attacks as the NATO mission winds down, with police and army casualties said to have increased by 15-20 percent since 2011.
The election to succeed Karzai is seen as the key test of whether 12 years of massive international military and aid intervention has been worthwhile.
Karzai recently named controversial former warlord Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, 2009 runner-up Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani as possible candidates.
Other potential runners include foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, Qayum Karzai, the president’s brother, and former interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali.
Karzai has pledged to ensure a smooth election, but international donors have expressed concern about whether the vote will produce a credible result after the 2009 poll was marred by massive fraud.
Chinese president’s visit
The Chinese president visits Central Asia this week amid concerns that a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could mean a destabilizing exodus of foreign radical fighters from the war zone to homelands closer to China’s borders.
With the pullout deadline just 16 months away, China’s leaders share widespread concerns that Kabul’s own forces won’t be able to maintain security or that foreign fighters who were focused on fighting US troops will now head elsewhere, including other fragile Central Asian nations or even northwestern China.
Xi Jinping’s trip, starting Tuesday, also is seen as an attempt to shore up China’s trade and relationships with governments in the region, extending Beijing’s influence in an area traditionally dominated by Russia.
“It’s vitally important for China’s development to have prosperity, peace and stability in Central Asia,” said Li Xin, a Russia and Central Asia specialist at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Studies. “The worry is the withdrawal of US troops will have a spillover effect.” Xi’s visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are his first to the region since taking office as president in March. He’ll end the trip in Kyrgyzstan where he will attend the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Russian- and Chinese-dominated grouping that Beijing hopes will boost its diplomatic influence in the region to better match its already considerable economic clout.
China surged past the EU as Central Asia’s biggest trading partner in 2010, and did $40 billion in commerce with the five-nation bloc in 2011. Much of that comes in the form of oil and gas, with two pipelines carrying supplies to China from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.