Nato repels daring assaults on Afghan bases by insurgents in US uniform

American troops face bloodiest month since 2001, as Kabul denies 'insulting' claims that adviser to President is in the pay of CIA
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The Independent Online

Insurgents wearing US army uniforms launched an audacious co-ordinated attack on two major Nato bases in eastern Afghanistan early yesterday morning. The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said the attacks were repelled with five insurgents captured and 24 killed, four of whom were wearing suicide vests. The Afghan Defence Ministry added that two Afghan soldiers were killed in the fighting and two wounded.

The assaults were on the sprawling Camp Salerno and nearby Camp Chapman in Khost at about 3am – just before morning prayers. The camps are about 60 miles south-east of Kabul, close to the border with Pakistan. The area is a hotbed of insurgent activity. In December seven CIA officers were killed in a suicide bombing on Camp Chapman – the worst attack on the CIA in 25 years.

In recent months the Taliban have been launching increasingly sophisticated guerrilla-style attacks on Nato bases, with similar assaults launched at Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

Afghan police said about 50 insurgents armed with rifles, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons were involved in the latest assault. Two insurgents did manage to breach the perimeter of Camp Salerno but were monitored as they cut the fence and were killed immediately.

"Coalition forces had the two insurgents under surveillance and when they cut the fence a quick reaction force was dispatched to the location, where they were killed," an Isaf statement said. Small-arms fire continued through the morning.

Major Wazir Pacha, of the provincial police headquarters, added that they had captured a pickup truck full of ammunition along with a light truck packed with explosives – which may have been intended for use in a suicide bombing – that had become stuck in deep mud. Bomb specialists later destroyed the truck and its cargo. After being repelled from the bases, the insurgents approached the nearby offices of the governor and provincial police headquarters but were driven off.

"Given the size of the enemy's force, this could have been a major catastrophe for Khost. Luckily we prevented it," Khost's provincial police chief, Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai, said.

Nato said the dead insurgents were members of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated group with strong ties to al-Qa'ida that is accused of launching frequent raids across the border from neighbouring Pakistan.

An airstrike on a truck in which insurgents were fleeing killed a senior Haqqani explosives expert suspected of arranging suicide bomb attacks, along with two other militants. Isaf said last week that it had captured a senior commander of the local Taliban network in Khost – although it is not clear whether the arrest is connected to the latest attacks.

On Friday, homemade bombs killed three American soldiers in southern and eastern Afghanistan, bringing the total number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this month to 55, including 35 Americans, according to a count by the Associated Press. July was the deadliest month for US forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, with 66 killed.

Also yesterday 48 schoolgirls, boys and teachers were hospitalised in the second case this week of suspected poisoning caused by an unidentified chemical substance. Most were discharged within hours of becoming ill with nausea, headaches and dizziness at Kabul's Zabihullah Esmati high school. The Taliban, who oppose female education, have been suspected in similar cases.

And Afghanistan's presidential office condemned reports in the American media that Afghan government officials have received payments from the CIA in return for information. A US newspaper report that a key national security adviser to the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, was being paid by the CIA is an insult to Afghanistan aimed at discrediting Mr Karzai's government, his office said on Saturday.

Citing Afghan and US officials, The New York Times reported last week that Mohammed Zia Salehi, who is under investigation for allegedly soliciting bribes, has been in the pay of the American spy agency for years.

The Washington Post made further claims that the CIA was paying a significant number of people in Mr Karzai's administration.

"Afghanistan's government... considers such an assertion an insult," a statement from Mr Karzai's office said. "We strongly condemn such irresponsible publicity which creates suspicion and doubt and discredits officials of our country."

Mr Salehi was arrested by Afghan police in a dawn raid in July as part of investigations into corruption – a major source of tension between Mr Karzai and the US – but was released after the Afghan leader intervened.

The statement from Mr Karzai's office added that the claims were part of an effort to deflect attention from tasks such as banning foreign security firms, a populist measure that the President announced earlier this month.

The private security companies have been given four months to pack up, a decree that drew criticism from Washington. Afghanistan faces parliamentary elections next month and such firms have long been an irritant for many Afghans.

"Afghanistan believes that making such allegations will not strengthen the alliance against terrorism and will not strengthen an Afghanistan based on the law and rules, but will have negative effects in those areas," the statement said.

"This is part of the routine politics of foreign newsmongering outlets and their spy agencies, who try to influence other nations."