KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban forces attacked a large coalition airfield in eastern Afghanistan early Sunday, detonating three car bombs near the entrance and engaging in a two-hour gun battle that killed nine insurgents, four Afghan guards and at least four civilians whose vehicle was caught in the cross-fire, Afghan officials and witnesses said.
Disguised in coalition military uniforms, the Taliban fighters attempted to enter the airfield, known as Forward Operating Base Fenty, after the initial explosions, which occurred just before 6 a.m., but were repelled by firepower that included helicopter gunships, officials said. Fewer than 10 coalition service members were wounded, according to official reports, though by late Sunday it remained unclear exactly how many had been hurt, and how severely. At least one of the guards killed in the fighting was a member of the Afghan military.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the operation, saying it had killed "tens" of foreign forces, though the insurgents routinely overstate the deadliness of their attacks.
But the coordinated assault, which left the entry to the base strewn with the remains of the bombers, was a potent reminder of the Taliban's determination to continue the fight. As the coalition forces wind down the 11-year war, and with Western combat troops already withdrawing, the attacks serve as a reminder that the Taliban are not going anywhere -- and that their firepower remains undiminished. How successful the nation's defenses will be after the 2014 withdrawal of coalition forces is a question on the minds of many Afghans.
Forward Operating Base Fenty is primarily run by American and is one of the larger airfields in eastern Afghanistan. Like other large coalition bases, Fenty has been attacked before, including in February, when a suicide blast killed nine Afghans. The assaults have, in most cases, been repulsed before the insurgents could fight their way inside bases, and coalition casualties have been minimal, as appears to have been the case on Sunday.
But the Afghans who work or live near the base have not been so fortunate. Afghan officials said that two of the civilians killed were doctors, their car riddled by gunfire about 50 yards from the base. The doctors had been on their way to work in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, said Hajji Niamatullah Khan, the district governor of Behsood. In addition, at least three private security guards on duty at the outer perimeter were killed, he said.
Coalition forces had few details about the extent of the damage from the Taliban assault.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said medical evacuation helicopters could be seen ferrying dead and wounded American soldiers from the scene, "which shows that heavy casualties were inflicted" by the attackers.
He also claimed that a Toyota sport utility vehicle packed with explosives had leveled one of the guard towers. He said that some of the attackers were wearing "foreign" military uniforms, a tactic that the Taliban have employed in previous assaults on coalition bases. An official from the American-led coalition confirmed that at least some of the attackers wore coalition uniforms.
The last major assault against a coalition base was in September, when the Taliban blew up eight Harrier attack jets and killed two Marines at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province. The militants, wearing American Army uniforms, caused more than $200 million in damage in that attack.
Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.