KABUL: Taliban militants launched a grenade and gun attack on Kabul airport, seizing two nearby buildings and firing on military facilities before being overwhelmed by Afghan security forces.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up and all five other attackers were killed in fighting as elite Afghan troops stormed the half-built properties where the militants had holed up.
Loud explosions and sporadic bursts of small-arms fire erupted for at least four hours after the attack woke up residents of the Afghan capital at about 4:30 am (1200 GMT).
“There were seven assailants — two (suicide bombers) died detonating themselves and five others were killed in fighting,” Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told reporters.
“There have not been any casualties to the security forces, and we have not received any report of civilian casualties so far.”
Officials immediately hailed the security forces’ response, with Adela Raz, a spokeswomen for President Hamid Karzai, praising their “bravery and courage” on her Twitter feed.
The NATO coalition said that some international forces were involved in the operation against the militants, but that Kabul’s increasingly professional quick-response units were in the lead.
Three suicide vests were found at the scene where the insurgents used rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and machine guns to fend off Afghan forces and attack the airport on the northeast side of Kabul.
No damage was reported inside the heavily-guarded airport, which has both a civilian and military terminal and contains a large base for the US-led NATO coalition.
The militants did not manage to breach the airport complex but all flights were cancelled or re-routed for several hours.
A Taliban spokesman said the insurgent group was responsible for the attack, adding that a large number of foreign and Afghan soldiers had been killed — a claim dismissed by Afghanistan and NATO.
Kabul last came under attack on May 24, when Taliban militants launched a coordinated suicide and gun attack on a compound of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
One insurgent detonated himself outside the compound in fighting that left several buildings in the city centre destroyed or badly damaged.
A policeman, two civilians and all four militants died in that attack — which was also widely lauded as a victory for Afghan’s security forces due to the limited casualty numbers.
The effectiveness of Afghanistan’s national police and army is crucial to the government’s ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency as 100,000 NATO-led combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
Afghan security personnel are being trained by the international coalition, but there are widespread fears that they will not be able to impose security nationwide after 12 years of war.
On Saturday, an Afghan soldier shot dead two US soldiers and one US civilian in the eastern province of Paktika, the latest “insider attack” to undermine efforts by the two armies to work together to defeat the Taliban insurgency.
In another recent attack to shake confidence in Afghanistan’s prospects after 2014, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offices in the eastern city of Jalalabad were attacked on May 29.
The two-hour assault, which left one Afghan guard dead, was the first time ICRC offices have been targeted in Afghanistan since the aid organisation began work in the country 26 years ago.
The Taliban, who were ousted from power in Kabul in 2001 for sheltering the Al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks, have fought a long and bloody insurgency against Karzai’s US-backed government.
The president was on a visit to Qatar and was not scheduled to fly back until Tuesday.