Taleban assault on Afghan airport kills 37

Attack comes as Afghan leader visits Pakistan for summit aimed at restarting peace talks

KANDAHAR (Afghanistan) • At least 37 civilians and members of Afghan security forces have been killed and 35 others wounded in Kandahar after an overnight attack by Taleban militants on the city's airport, officials said yesterday.

A Ministry of Defence statement said final mopping-up operations were still ongoing last night, with nine Taleban members killed and another wounded. A final survivor was still resisting security forces.

Residents said they had heard soldiers pleading with the insurgents to free women and children, after the fighting erupted on Tuesday evening. The brazen raid on the sprawling compound, which also houses a joint Nato-Afghan base, is the second major Taleban assault in as many days in the city recognised as the birthplace of the Taleban.

The militants had managed to breach the first gate of the high-security complex and took up position in an old building, engaging security forces in pitched firefights.

The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying on Twitter that "150 Afghan and foreign soldiers" had been killed. However, the insurgents are regularly known to exaggerate battlefield claims.

The raid coincides with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's high-profile visit to Pakistan yesterday for the Heart of Asia conference aimed at promoting regional ties and reviving stalled Afghan peace talks with the insurgents.

Pakistan, which has historically supported the Afghan Taleban and wields considerable influence over the insurgents, hosted a milestone first round of peace talks in July.

Afghan and Pakistani leaders at the conference held firm to their positions on their troubled ties. Mr Ghani said "enemies" had unsuccessfully tried to divide Afghanistan but they had been foiled, and he blamed "regional and international terror groups" for the violence in his country.

And Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan stressed his commitment to "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process", a reference to the talks hosted by Islamabad.

The Kandahar raid also comes after days of fevered speculation about the fate of Taleban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, following reports that he was critically wounded in a firefight with his own commanders in Pakistan. Rumours of his demise could intensify the simmering rifts within the insurgent movement. The leadership dispute has seen scores killed in fighting between opposing factions.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Taleban assault on Afghan airport kills 37'. Print Edition | Subscribe