Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — About 20 insurgents armed with assault rifles and vests loaded with explosives launched a coordinated attack Friday against a NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, military officials said — the latest in a series of largely futile but psychologically rattling strikes against well-fortified Western installations.
Five insurgents were killed and one captured in the strike, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement. There were no Western casualties, it said.
The attack against Forward Operating Base Gardez, in Paktia province, began when "a vehicle, followed closely by four suicide-vest-wearing insurgents, attempted to breach a fortified area of the base," the NATO force said. Combinations of car bombs and suicide bombers on foot are often used to try to penetrate government buildings and Western installations.
In recent months, Taliban fighters have launched what were previously unusual frontal assaults on the largest Western bases in Afghanistan — airfields at Kandahar in the south; Bagram, north of the capital; and Jalalabad, in the east. The aim appears to be mainly to show that insurgents are willing to sacrifice fighters in what amount to suicide attacks.
Eastern provinces bordering Pakistan's tribal areas are particularly vulnerable to attacks by an insurgent splinter group, the network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force has been aggressively pursuing the Haqqani network on both the Afghan and Pakistani sides of the border.
Also Friday, the Western military said that two Afghan journalists detained by the NATO force had been freed, along with a third taken into custody by Afghanistan's intelligence service.
Afghan journalists who maintain contacts with the Taliban for newsgathering purposes sometimes fall under the suspicion of the government of President Hamid Karzai, or the Western military, or both. International press groups and human rights organizations had objected to the detentions.
The journalists detained by the Western military had been picked up over the last week. They were Rahmatullah Naikzad and Mohammad Nadir, both working for the Qatar-based satellite station Al Jazeera, widely watched throughout the Muslim world. Naikzad is also a freelancer for the Associated Press.
The NATO force said that an investigation had deemed the two not to be security threats, but provided no details.
The other arrest was that of radio journalist Hojatullah Mujadadi, who worked in Kapisa province, not far from Kabul, the capital. Karzai had appealed for the release of the two journalists held by the NATO force, making it somewhat awkward that his government was holding a journalist as well.
Mujadadi's release, together with that of the other two, was reported by the Western military Friday, which is the main Muslim prayer day, when government ministries are closed and no spokesman for Karzai returned calls.