- Airport in southern Kandahar city home to Afghan, NATO forces
- Attack occurred during regional meeting to restart peace talks
Afghan forces ended a Taliban assault on the international airport in Afghanistan’s second-largest city of Kandahar that left dozens dead over about 20 hours of fighting.
The Taliban’s most ambitious strike since it temporarily seized a northern city in September killed at least 37 people, including women and children, according to Dawlat Waziri, a defense ministry spokesman. The raid began on Tuesday evening when as many as 14 Taliban fighters attacked residential houses and schools inside the grounds of the airport, which is also home to a base for Afghan and NATO forces.
All the Taliban fighters were killed, Samim Ekhpelwak, a spokesman for Kandahar’s government, said by phone.
The assault underscores the Taliban’s strength as Afghanistan’s government and U.S. forces aim to bring the group back to peace talks 14 years after an invasion that has killed more than 2,200 American troops and cost taxpayers more than $700 billion. Failure to reach a deal threatens to sap U.S. military resources, disrupt planned Chinese investments and deepen a conflict between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
The attack came hours before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited Pakistan to speak at a conference attended by regional leaders to discuss the country’s future. At the meeting, the U.S., China and Pakistan agreed to help facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani told reporters in Islamabad.
“We very much hope that this effort will result in a result-oriented peace process and we will see some positive moves in coming weeks," Rabbani said.
Nascent peace talks ended in July after Afghanistan’s government confirmed that Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar had died. That triggered a battle for power among the group, which disagrees on the merits of pursuing reconciliation.
In recent days, the Taliban has denied reports that new leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was wounded or killed in a gunfight with fellow commanders. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the group, claimed responsibility for the airport attack in an e-mailed statement. He said as many as 80 soldiers were killed, a figure that couldn’t be verified.
The school building attacked during the assault is close to a NATO base and the residential barracks of Afghan forces, Ekhpelwak said. NATO helicopters were seen targeting the school’s building, he said.
Taliban attacks on airports aren’t rare. A suicide car bomb struck the entrance gate of Kabul’s international airport in August, killing 5 and wounding 16 people. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for that attack.