Kabul: The Taliban claimed responsibility Sunday for a nighttime assault on NATO`s biggest base in southern Afghanistan in which insurgents firing rockets, mortars and automatic weapons tried to storm Kandahar Air Field.
It was the second such attack on a major military installation this week. Several coalition troops and civilian employees were wounded in Saturday night`s assault, but no deaths were reported, officials said.
Militants unleashed rockets and mortars about 8 p.m. (1530 GMT) and then tried unsuccessfully to storm the northern perimeter, officials said. Artillery and machine-gun fire reverberated through the base, about 300 miles (500 kilometers) southwest of Kabul, for more than three hours afterward.
One of the rockets hit a shop-lined boardwalk where soldiers socialize in the evenings. A bloodstain could be seen on the walkway outside a T.G.I. Friday`s restaurant on the boardwalk Sunday morning, said Maura Axelrod, a reporter with HDNet who was inside the base.
A US official said the rocket hit about 50 meters (yards) away from the restaurant, in front of a coffee shop on the boardwalk. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been officially released.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press that its fighters attacked the base from two sides and fired more than 15 rockets.
It was the third major attack on NATO forces in Afghanistan in six days.
The attacks follow a Taliban announcement of a spring offensive against NATO forces and Afghan government troops — their response to a promise by the Obama administration to squeeze the Taliban out of their strongholds in the southern province of Kandahar.
On Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy in the capital, killing 18 people, including five American and a Canadian NATO service members. The next day, dozens of Taliban militants attacked the main US military base at Bagram Air Field, killing an American contractor in fighting that lasted more than eight hours.
On Saturday night, at least five rockets struck the Kandahar base in the initial attack, said Navy Cmdr. Amanda Peterseim, a spokeswoman for NATO forces at the base. Witnesses said explosions continued through much of the night. There were no reports of deaths and Peterseim did not have the precise number of wounded.
"The alarm has been sounding for several hours, but no insurgents have penetrated the base perimeter," NATO said in a statement issued overnight. It said "a number" of wounded military and civilian personnel were receiving medical treatment, and there were no confirmed fatalities.
NATO said troops and civilians were told to remain in bunkers as a precaution.
The defense minister of Britain`s new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government was diverted from flying into Kandahar Air Field on Saturday because of the attack.
Defense Secretary Liam Fox, Foreign Secretary William Hague and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell flew into Camp Bastion in neighboring Helmand province instead. Fox and his fellow ministers paid their first visit Sunday to British troops in southern Afghanistan since taking office.
Peterseim did not know how many insurgents launched the attack but said they did not appear to be wearing suicide vests, as had many of those who stormed Bagram Air Field north of Kabul on Wednesday. In addition to the U.S. contractor`s death, 16 militants were killed and five attackers were captured in the Bagram assault.
Rocket attacks against the Kandahar base, located about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Kandahar city, and are not uncommon. But ground assaults against such large facilities as Kandahar and Bagram are rare. Two attacks in the same week show that the militants are capable of complex operations despite NATO military pressure.
Kandahar Air Field is the launching pad for thousands of additional U.S. forces pouring into the country for a summer surge against the Taliban. There are more than 20,000 people on the base, Peterseim said.
In the east, meanwhile, the police chief of Andar district in Ghazni province was killed in a gunbattle with militants Sunday, said Yasouf Saraji, the district administrator.
On Saturday, five civilians were killed when an old mine exploded in the field they were tilling in Kapisa province, and two Afghan soldiers were killed the same day in a gunbattle with insurgents in Paktia province, officials said.