Taliban fighters have attacked Kandahar airport, killing dozens of civilians and one soldier in the deadliest ever attack on the largest military facility in southern .
The audacious assault began at about 6.30pm on Tuesday when suicide bombers breached the outer security perimeter.
The Afghan ministry of defence told Stars and Stripes, the US military’s newspaper, that 38 were killed, 37 civilians and one Afghan army soldier.
At about midnight, Afghan officials said the fighting seemed to have been contained. However, the breached area of the airfield, crammed with old apartment blocks, shops and a school, appeared difficult to clear, and the militants continued fighting.
The battle was still under way on Wednesday, with militants taking civilian hostages. A Nato spokesman said there were no reports of foreign casualties.
While the attackers did not get close to the main military section of the airport, including the runway and barracks housing foreign troops and advisers, they caused enough chaos to raise concern about airport security levels.
The attack in Kandahar, the traditional stronghold and spiritual heartland of the movement, follows a months-long insurgent campaign, culminating in September with the capture of Kunduz city, which gave the militants a major PR-victory and morale boost.
“Stuff like this is pretty bold, pretty ambitious,” the western official said about the Kandahar attack. “The level of ambition has been ratcheted up since Kunduz.”
It is not the first time the Taliban has wreaked havoc on a major airfield in Afghanistan. In 2012, 15 Taliban fighters disguised as American soldiers managed to in Helmand where they destroyed hundreds of million of dollars-worth of helicopters.
The incursion on Kandahar airport coincides with the Heart of Asia summit in Pakistan, which many hope will provide an opportunity to talk about reviving peace talks.
It also follows a week of internal disarray in the Taliban after reports that its leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, had been injured in a gunfight in Pakistan. Amid rumours that Mansoor had died, the Taliban issued a statement on Saturday, ostensibly featuring Mansoor’s voice reassuring his comrades that he was alive and well.