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Siege at Afghan Airport Ends With 37 Civilians Dead, 35 Wounded

An MC-12W Liberty departs Kandahar Airfield, March 20, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Brian Wagner/Released)
An MC-12W Liberty departs Kandahar Airfield, March 20, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Brian Wagner/Released)

Updated at 8:33 a.m. Eastern

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A daylong siege at a heavily fortified airport in southern Afghanistan left 37 civilians dead and another 35 wounded as Taliban militants tried to fight their way onto an adjacent military base, according to an Afghan Ministry of Defense official.

After nearly a full day of fighting against 10 to 15 insurgents at Kandahar Airport, Afghan forces on Wednesday finally ended the attack, which included suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles. The airport abuts Kandahar Air Field, a major hub of U.S. and Afghan military operations that the insurgents hoped to reach, Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman Gen. Mohammad Radmanish said.

One Afghan soldier was killed and three others injured. All the attackers were reportedly killed.

Afghan and U.S. officials said the insurgents didn't make it inside the perimeter of the military base, home to roughly 2,000 U.S. troops, instead occupying buildings inside the Kandahar airport grounds. After fierce battles with Afghan troops overnight, several surviving attackers were scattered throughout several airport buildings Wednesday and continued fighting with Afghan security forces into the afternoon, officials said.

Passengers from at least one commercial flight were caught up in the attacks Tuesday and were stuck in the passenger terminal until the fighting ceased.

Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan, said no American or coalition troops were injured or killed in the attack.

Kandahar Air Field, a former hub for tens of thousands of troops and contractors, is located in southern Afghanistan's largest city and the Taliban's spiritual heartland. The Taliban, who often exaggerate the effects of their attacks, claimed responsibility on their website, saying five attackers killed scores of international and Afghan troops.

The attack is another blow to the Afghan security forces, who have been stretched by a stubborn insurgency since the international military coalitoin withdrew the bulk of its troops. They were dealt perhaps their biggest blow of the war in September, when Taliban fighters overran the major northern city of Kunduz. It took two weeks of fighting and help from American special forces troops and coalition airpower for Afghan forces to fully regain control of the city.

Roughly 10,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, largely in an advisory role, though a large proportion of them are also conducting counterterrorism operations. Continued fierce fighting between insurgents and Afghan troops prompted President Barack Obama to announce in October that he would extend the American military mission and keep troop levels much higher than originally planned in the coming year.

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Original story

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Passengers remained trapped in an airport terminal Wednesday as Afghan security forces continued a deadly battle against insurgents who launched a complex attack on the edge of a major military base the day before.

Using suicide bombers, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and small arms, 14 Taliban militants attacked Kandahar Air Field Tuesday night, eventually occupying buildings inside the perimeter of the adjacent civilian airport, Afghan government and military officials said. After fierce battles overnight, five surviving attackers were scattered throughout several airport buildings Wednesday and still fighting with Afghan security forces, officials said.

As of late Wednesday morning, nine civilians and Afghan troops had been killed, in addition to nine attackers, said an officer with the Afghan army's Kandahar-based 205th Corps, who asked for anonymity to speak about operations. The officer said roughly 20 people had been injured.

Passengers from two commercial flights were caught up in the attacks Tuesday and were still stuck in the passenger terminal on Wednesday, said Kandahar provincial government spokesman Samim Khpalwak.

There were conflicting reports about whether the gunmen had breached the perimeter of the military base, which is home to about 2,000 U.S. troops. Coalition spokesman Col. Michael Lawhorn said they had not done so, but The New York Times reported that they had.

The Times also reported that NATO aircraft targeted the school building where it said the insurgents were holed up, which Lawhorn denied. Lawhorn said no American or coalition troops were injured or killed in the attack.

Kandahar Air Field, a former hub for coalition military forces, is located in southern Afghanistan’s largest city and the Taliban's spiritual heartland. The Taliban, who often exaggerate the effects of their attacks, claimed responsibility on their website, saying five attackers killed scores of international and Afghan troops.

As international military forces have withdrawn most of their troops from the country, the Afghan security forces have been stretched by a stubborn insurgency. They were dealt perhaps their biggest blow of the war in September, when Taliban fighters overran the major northern city of Kunduz. It took two weeks of fighting and help from American special forces troops and coalition airpower for Afghan forces to fully regain control of the city.

Roughly 10,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, largely in an advisory role, though a large proportion of them are also conducting counterterrorism operations. Continued fierce fighting between insurgents and Afghan troops prompted President Barack Obama to announce in October that he would extend the American military mission and keep troop levels much higher than originally planned in the coming year.

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