Taliban admit Kandahar attack

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for an assault with rockets, mortars and automatic weapons on Kandahar airport, Nato's biggest base in southern Afghanistan, in the third major attack on the military in six days. Several coalition troops and civilian employees were wounded.

Also a government official confirmed that a three-day conference to discuss peace prospects with the Taliban has been postponed from next Saturday until June 2. It was the second delay for the conference, known as a "peace jirga," which is expected to roll out government incentives for insurgents who agree to give up the war.

The Saturday night attack against Kandahar base was the second ground assault on a major NATO installation this week. Officials said a number of soldiers and civilians were wounded but gave no figures. They said there were no confirmed deaths among the more than 20,000 people who live and work at the base.

Militants unleashed rockets and mortars about 8pm and then tried unsuccessfully to storm the northern perimeter of the base, about 300 miles southwest of Kabul. One of the rockets hit a shop-lined boardwalk where soldiers socialize in the evenings.

The attack forced a British government delegation headed by Foreign Secretary William Hague to divert from Kandahar during their Afghan visit.

Instead, Hague, together with Defence Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell flew into Camp Bastion in neighboring Helmand province.

The attack was the third major assault on NATO forces in Afghanistan in six days and followed a Taliban announcement of a spring offensive against NATO forces and Afghan government troops. The announcement was the insurgents' response to plans by the Obama administration to squeeze the Taliban out of their strongholds in the Kandahar area, the Taliban's birthplace.