Afghan soldiers keep watch on a road in Kandahar as insurgents attacked… (I. Sameem / EPA )
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Insurgents with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launched a sustained attack Thursday against a U.S. base in Kandahar. No coalition casualties were reported, but the hours-long confrontation demonstrated the Taliban's continuing ability to strike in the heart of Afghanistan's main southern city.
The attack, which began in midafternoon and stretched into the evening, targeted a joint civilian-military installation housing what is known as a provincial reconstruction team, or PRT, mainly devoted to development projects. The base was run by troops from Canada until this summer, when that nation ended its combat mission in Afghanistan.
One of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's biggest bases, Kandahar Airfield, is a short distance from the city, and sometimes serves as a deterrent to insurgent attacks in the area. PRT bases, however, are typically positioned so as to give immediate access to the surrounding community, to aid in the task of trying to win public support.
Afghan officials, who described the attack as "failed," said the assailants took over a three-story complex close to the U.S. base and used it as a staging ground. That echoed the tactic employed in a 20-hour siege of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last month, when assailants used an unfinished multistory building to rain rockets on the diplomatic compound.
A second and apparently coordinated strike took place near a combat outpost in the Panjwayi district outside Kandahar city, where a car bomb exploded, said a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force. The spokesman, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, said the base's perimeter was not breached.
The dual attacks came a day after Afghan government officials said they were completing plans to hand over all or part of 17 provinces to Afghan security forces. Afghan police and soldiers began taking over security responsibilities in July in seven Afghan cities or provinces, a prelude to the envisioned end of the Western combat mission by 2014.
U.S.-led forces last year staged a costly offensive to secure key districts surrounding Kandahar city, and said the Taliban had been driven from longtime strongholds. Local people say the insurgents keep a low profile these days, but are still present in considerable numbers around Kandahar, the Taliban's birthplace.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said all personnel in the PRT were safe and accounted for, but that there had been unconfirmed casualty reports. Afghan officials said a police officer and a civilian were hurt.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both of Thursday's strikes.