KABUL (REUTERS) - Seven Taleban insurgentsincluding suicide bombers attacked the main airport in the Afghan capital, Kabul, early on Monday, with explosions and gunfire heard near an area that also houses major foreignmilitary bases.
The attackers took up positions inside a partially constructed building next to the international airport, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said, and fought Afghansecurity forces for about four hours before the raid ended.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack. Roadswere sealed off and flights out of the airport were quicklycancelled, while incoming flights were diverted to the northerncity of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Attacks on the heavily guarded airport, used by civiliansand the military, are relatively rare and represent an ambitioustarget for insurgents, with recent assaults staged against lesswell-protected targets.
While it did not escalate dramatically, Monday’s assaultwill add to mounting concerns over how the 352,000-strong Afghansecurity forces will cope with an intensifying insurgency oncemost foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The airport is home to a major operational base for NATO-ledforces that have been fighting Taleban and other insurgents for12 years and is bristling with soldiers and police, guard towersand several lines of security checkpoints.
The attack began at about 4.30 am local time, soon aftermorning prayers, and plumes of smoke were seen rising frombehind razor-wire fences at the airport. The fighting endedabout four hours later.
Police said the attack appeared to be centred on themilitary side of the airport, to the west of the civilianterminal, and that the attackers were dressed as police.
Kabul Police Chief General Mohammad Ayub Salangi toldReuters that two suicide bombers blew themselves up and another fivewere killed in the fighting. There appeared to be no casualtiesamong Afghan security forces or civilians.
Another police source said the attackers were wearing AfghanBorder Police uniforms in order to avoid detection before theylaunched the assault.
Mr Salangi also said a van packed with explosives hidden undervegetables was destroyed when security forces fired arocket-propelled grenade at it.
The Taleban said the attack was part of its 2013 “springoffensive”.
"Today ... there was a massive attack on the foreignmilitary side of Kabul airport,” Taleban spokesman ZabihullahMujahid said in a text message sent to reporters.
"The enemy has suffered major casualties,” he said. TheIslamist group often exaggerates the damage and casualties from attacks on Afghan government and foreign military targets.
The Afghan Air Force, a number of logistics bases and theInternational Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF)counter-narcotics office are also located in or near theairport.
Embassies in the diplomatic zone in the centre of Kabul werelocked down and emergency alerts were heard ringing from severalWestern missions and military bases soon after the attack began.
Two ISAF Black Hawk helicopters briefly circled the areawhile Afghan soldiers fired at the building where the gunmenwere holed up, a witness said.
The attack follows other recent assaults on theInternational Organisation for Migration in Kabul and theInternational Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern city ofJalalabad that killed four people.
In April 2011, a rogue Afghan air force officer shot andkilled eight US servicemen and a civilian contractor in theworst attack at the airport since the war began following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.