Kabul: Insurgents wearing US Army uniforms launched pre-dawn attacks on Saturday on a major NATO base in eastern Afghanistan and a nearby camp where seven CIA employees were killed last year in a suicide bombing. NATO said there were no coalition casualties and the attacks were repelled.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan`s presidential office condemned US media reports that Afghan government officials received payments from the CIA in return for information. A presidential office statement did not address or deny any specific allegations, but called the reports an insult to the government and an attempt to defame people within it.
NATO said at least 21 insurgents were killed — including four who were wearing suicide vests — and five captured in Saturday`s coordinated attacks.
Afghanistan`s Interior Ministry put the insurgent death toll in the attacks at 24, with five captured and no casualties on the police side. The Defense Ministry said two Afghan soldiers were killed and three wounded in the fighting.
The assaults on the sprawling Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province and nearby Camp Chapman came about 3 am, just as area residents were rising for early morning prayers.
The area, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of Kabul near the border with Pakistan, is a hotbed of activity by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including the December attack on Chapman that killed four CIA officers and three contracted security guards.
In recent months similar attacks have been launched against US bases at Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
Afghan police said about 50 insurgents attacked using rifles, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, but had been repelled.
After being driven away from the bases, the insurgents approached the nearby offices of the governor and provincial police headquarters but were driven off, said Khost provincial police Chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai.
"Given the size of the enemy`s force, this could have been a major catastrophe for Khost. Luckily we prevented it," he said.
Small-arms fire continued through the morning, while NATO helicopters patrolled overhead.
NATO said two insurgents had managed to breach Salerno`s perimeter, but were observed cutting the fence and killed immediately.
Dead insurgents were seen wearing camouflage jackets and pants seemingly identical to those warn by US Army soldiers.
Police captured a pickup truck laden with ammunition along with a light truck packed with explosives that had become stuck in deep mud, according to Major Wazir Pacha of the provincial police headquarters. Bomb specialists later destroyed the truck and its cargo, according to the Interior Ministry.
NATO said the dead insurgents were members of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-affiliated group with deep ties to al Qaeda that is accused of launching frequent raids across the border from neighboring Pakistan.
An airstrike on a truck in which insurgents were fleeing killed Mudasir, a senior Haqqani explosives expert suspected of arranging suicide bomb attacks, along with two other militants, NATO said.
A statement on Saturday from the presidential spokesman`s office called the reports of CIA payments part of an attempt to divert attention from the greater priorities of fighting terrorism, preventing civilian casualties, and disbanding private security companies blamed for lawlessness and corruption.
"Afghanistan believes that making such allegations will not strengthen the alliance against terrorism and will not strengthen an Afghanistan based on the law and rules, but will have negative effects in those areas," the statement said.
"We strongly condemn such irresponsible allegations which just create doubt and defame responsible people of this country," it said.
A former US official told a news agency on Friday the CIA has paid members of the Afghan government to track various factions within it. The practice has raised concerns at a time when the United States is pressing Afghan officials to make the government less corrupt.
An American newspaper reported the agency is paying Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for Afghanistan`s National Security Council, for information. The Washington Post also had the report on Friday.
In the southern provinces of Nimroz and Zabul, a total of seven Taliban were killed in fighting, police said. No police casualties were reported.
Separately, NATO said one of its patrols mistakenly fired on a vehicle carrying private security contractors in Wardak province west of Kabul, killing two men.
It said the patrol had come under Taliban fire early Saturday, then spotted a vehicle approaching fast from behind with a man shooting out its window.
"It is believed that the private security contractors were returning fire against the same insurgents who had just previously attacked the coalition vehicle, and had increased their speed to break contact," the coalition said in a statement.
The incident was under investigation, it said.
Coalition forces and private security contractors frequently come under small-arms fire along the stretch of road known as Highway 2 that runs west through perilous country toward the city of Herat.
On Friday, homemade bombs killed three US troops in southern and eastern Afghanistan, bringing the total number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this month to 55, including 35 Americans, according to a count by The Associated Press. July was the deadliest month for US forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, with 66 killed.
Also Saturday, 48 schoolgirls, boys, and teachers were hospitalized in the second case this week of suspected poisoning caused by an unidentified chemical substance.
Most were discharged within hours of becoming ill with nausea, headaches and dizziness at Kabul`s Zabihullah Esmati High School. Tests have yet to reveal whether the victims were poisoned. The Taliban, which opposes female education, has been suspected in similar cases.
NATO also issued a statement saying coalition helicopter pilots were not responsible for the deaths of three Afghan policemen killed August. 20 in what had been considered a friendly fire incident in Jowzjan province.
It said the helicopters showed up hours after fighting began, and it was possible the three were killed earlier. All Afghan forces had also been ordered to remain inside compounds at the time the two helicopters fired a missile and 80 30-millimeter rounds at an insurgent firing position, NATO said.