KANDAHAR –– Dozens of people have been killed in a Taliban attack on a heavily fortified civilian and military airfield in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
The Ministry of Defence said that at least 37 people, including many children, had been killed in the clashes. At least nine militants were also killed.
A number of hostages were seized in the 26-hour attack before Afghan forces retook the airport.
Final “mopping up operations” were now under way, military officials said.
The Taliban said a number of suicide fighters managed to enter the base with weapons. They said “martyrdom seekers” had launched “thunderous attacks on foreign and hireling personnel”.
The ministry statement said that a total of 11 insurgents had taken part in the attack. As well as nine killed, another was injured. Reports said a final gunman held out on his own for several hours before being killed late this evening.
Kandahar security officials put the number of attackers at 12, all of whom had been killed.
At least 35 people were injured in the attack, the Ministry of Defence said.
The raid was the latest in a series of battlefield victories by the Taliban who briefly seized the northern city of Kunduz in September.
The airport compound houses Afghan military and civilian sections as well as a NATO base.
Officials said the attackers initially managed to breach the first gate of the complex.
Tolo News TV said the insurgents were dressed in military uniform and were equipped with light and heavy weaponry. It has reported that 14 insurgents were killed.
A doctor at a military hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the BBC that a number of bodies had been received, including those of four soldiers. The hostages were believed to include women and small children.
Correspondents say the attack is a huge security failure because the attackers were able to smuggle weapons into an area supposed to have been made secure by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
Kandahar army commander Sher Shah told reporters that radio intercepts had found that some militants were speaking in Urdu –– a language more common in neighbouring Pakistan. Afghan officials frequently blame Pakistan for unrest.
The statement by the Taliban claimed that they had killed up to 80 soldiers. This figure could not be verified.
Kandahar airport director Ahmadullah Faizi told AFP news agency that some passengers waiting to board a commercial flight to India had been trapped inside the airport’s civilian terminal, at some distance from the fighting, during the attack.
Separately, the Taliban claimed to have captured Khanashin district in southern Helmand province.
A local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the district had fallen.
Militant violence has increased across Afghanistan since the departure of most Nato and US forces last year.
The latest violence came as Afghan president Ashraf Ghani called for help to defeat terrorism, at a regional conference in Pakistan.
Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, speaking at the conference, called on Pakistan to help restart stalled peace talks with the Taliban.