KHOST, (REUTERS) – Foreign and Afghan troops repelled pre-dawn attacks on two bases in Afghanistan’s east on Saturday, officials said, with the Taliban saying suicide bombers were among 30 of its fighters who launched the raids.
The attacks targeted the U.S. military’s Forward Operating Base Chapman and Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province near the eastern border with Pakistan, where U.S. and other foreign forces have been stepping up operations against a resurgent Taliban.
Seven Central Intelligence Agency officers were killed by a suicide bomber inside Chapman last December, the second-most deadly attack in CIA history.
Despite the presence of almost 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
Taliban-led insurgents have launched increasingly brazen attacks around Afghanistan in a bid to topple the government and force out foreign troops. More than 2,000 foreign troops have been killed, most of them Americans, since the conflict began.
Hundreds of civilians have also been caught in the crossfire, with civilian deaths spiking by 31 percent in the first six months of this year, according to a United Nations report.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said air support was called in after the bases came under from arms and rockets or mortar rounds early on Saturday. There have been several similar attacks against foreign military bases and Afghan government buildings in the east in the past year.
ISAF earlier said at least 10 insurgents were killed but spokesman Master Sergeant Jason Haag said later the death toll had risen to more than 20.
Several more insurgents were captured, ISAF said.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said about 30 fighters had attacked the bases. They included suicide bombers and others armed with rockets and machine guns, Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
He said about 20 of the fighters had been sent against the Salerno base.
Khost police chief Abdul Hakim Ishaaqzai said the bodies of 14 insurgents were found near the two bases and five others detained, one of them wounded. He said two vehicles packed with ammunition and explosives were seized.
Ishaaqzai said two civilians were also killed. Although ISAF said the attacks had been repelled, residents said intermittent shooting and explosions could still be heard several hours later.
ISAF said its forces had mistakenly killed two private security contractors after one of its patrols came under fire from insurgents in an attack in Wardak province, west of the capital.
A car approached the patrol at speed on a highway in the Maidan Shahr district of Wardak on Friday and men could be seen shooting out of the vehicle’s windows, ISAF said in a statement.
The patrol fired on the vehicle, killing two people inside later identified as private security contractors.
“It is believed that the private security contractors were returning fire against the same insurgents who had just previously attacked the coalition vehicle, and had increased their speed to break contact,” ISAF said.
The suicide attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman on December 30 last year highlighted the insurgency’s reach and coordination, particularly in their strongholds in the south and east.
The insurgents launched a similar attack this month on the main foreign base in southern Kandahar province, the spiritual homeland of the Taliban.
Poor security is one of the main concerns for Afghans before parliamentary elections on September 18, a milestone after fraud-marred presidential polls last year and with U.S. President Barack Obama planning a strategy review in December.