ALISSA J RUBIN
An audacious Taliban attack on a heavily fortified base in southern Afghanistan did far more damage than initially reported,destroying or severely damaging eight attack jets in the most destructive single strike on Western matériel in the 11-year war,military officials said Sunday.
While other attacks have caused greater loss of life,the assault late Friday at Camp Bastion in Helmand province,one of the largest and best-defended posts in Afghanistan,was troubling to NATO because the attackers were able to penetrate the base,killing two Marines and causing more than $200 million in damage. Were saying its a very sophisticated attack, said a military official here. Weve lost aircraft in battle,but nothing like this.
The complex attack,which NATO officials said was conducted by three tightly choreographed teams of militants wearing American army uniforms,was a reminder that the Taliban remain capable of serious assaults despite the surge offensive against them.
Together with a rash of attacks by Afghan security forces against NATO troops including two over the weekend that left at least six coalition service members dead the Taliban have put new pressure on the American withdrawal plan,which calls for accelerated troop pullouts through 2014 while training Afghan forces to take over.
At the same time,tensions with the government flared Sunday as President Hamid Karzai condemned the deaths of Afghan women in airstrikes and criticized the continued American custody of hundreds of Afghan prisoners.
The military investigation into the attack at Bastion is now trying to uncover whether the insurgents had help from inside the camp and whether they were trained or aided by neighbouring countries,such as Pakistan or Iran,which have allowed the Taliban to take refuge on their territory.
Two American Marines were killed in the attack,and nine coalition personnel,were wounded. Prince Harry,the third in line to the British throne,was stationed at Camp Bastion at the time of the attack,but was not hurt.