KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban fighters firing from atop an unfinished mansion attacked the military side of Kabuls international airport early Monday, triggering a gun battle with Afghan security forces that lasted more than four hours before the attackers were killed.
Two civilians suffered minor injuries, but there were no casualties among the foreign troops on the base or the Afghan security forces, and the attackers never entered the base, said Afghan officials.
The military part of the base includes the operational headquarters for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the headquarters of the Afghan air force. It's also used by various NATO aircraft, but is separate from the civilian portion of the airport.
In an email, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attackers began by firing from the upper floors of the four-story house down into the north side of the airport about 350 yards away.
As the fighting raged, journalists taking cover behind a nearby house could see modest damage to at least one tent-like temporary hangar. Apparently, though, it didn't belong to ISAF: a spokeswoman for the coalition said there was no damage to its buildings, aircraft or equipment.
It was an ineffective echo of an assault last year on the main airfield used by U.S. Marines in restive Helmand Province. Those attackers, dressed in U.S. uniforms, breached a lightly-defended side of Camp Bastion and attacked a row of hangars. They killed two U.S. Marines , wounded eight others and a civilian contractor and caused about $200 million in damage to aircraft.
This time though, there were fewer than half as many attackers, security forces responded within minutes and the results were much different.
The fighters drove into the residential neighborhood in a car and a delivery truck before 4 a.m., and tried to enter a different house, but the gate was locked, said a witness, Berhannudin, who was walking with a friend to a nearby mosque for morning prayers. There were seven of them, all but one in the uniform of the Border Police, which has its national headquarters nearby.
The one in civilian clothes pointed a pistol at a local man outside the mosque and demanded his cell phone, before the attackers walked back to their vehicles speaking Pashto, said Berhannudin, who like many Afghans uses one name. They then drove about a block to the house they used for the attacks, a massive four-story home under construction about 350 yards north of the airports security perimeter.
Next door, Sayed Maqbol, his brother, their wives and 10 children had just awoken and also were preparing for prayers when the attackers began shooting machine guns and what sounded like rocket-propelled grenades into the base.
As security forces from the base returned fire, Maqbol called police, who arrived within minutes and began exchanging fire with the militants. Reinforcements poured in, including dozens of Afghan regular and special operations soldiers and intelligence service commandos.
Maqbol's family hid in their house as the Afghan security forces fired grenades and hundreds of bullets over them into the house next door, and the Taliban fighters returned fire, he said.
Firing from the Afghan security forces grew so intense, Maqbol said, that attackers on upper floors were killed and the others were forced into the lower floors and basement, where they no longer had a clear shot into the airport or neighboring compounds. At that point, he said and police surged into the neighborhood and pulled his family and other civilians out of the nearby homes to safety.