Taliban insurgents detonated a truck bomb, then tried to storm a NATO base on Friday in eastern Afghanistan, but coalition forces repelled the attack, killing 14 militants, officials said.
No foreign or Afghan troops were killed, according to NATO, but the attack showed the fundamentalist Islamic movement remains a resilient force even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai insists they do not have the means to retake the nation after foreign forces leave.
In the past two years, the US-led coalition has sent tens of thousands of troops into Taliban strongholds in the south and has largely succeeded in boosting security there. The Taliban have responded by opening up new fronts in the north and west and stepping up attacks in the east, where much of the heaviest fighting is presently concentrated.
NATO plans to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and turn security over to local forces. If security allows, Karzai said foreign forces could pull out earlier.
“We will not ask them to leave early,” Karzai told Time magazine. “If everything is done in time and they want to leave early, we will welcome it.”
His office released a transcript of the wide-ranging May 13 interview on Friday.
Karzai said that while the US had helped Afghanistan build roads, schools, clinics and welcomed the country into the world community, US and NATO troops had not been able to provide security to the Afghan people.
“It did not bring the defeat of terrorism as we thought it would,” he said. “It did not fight the war on terrorism in a manner that we felt was right ... But the American presence did bring an overall stability to Afghanistan, which is very important.”
Karzai also was adamant that the Taliban no longer have the means to overthrow the Afghan government.
“There is a lot in the Western press about the Taliban coming back and all that,” Karzai said. “If you asked me three years ago, I would have not answered you in the positive. I would have said: ‘I don’t know,’ or: ‘You are probably right,’ or somewhere in-between. But now, I can tell you with confidence that the Taliban as a force to threaten the government of Afghanistan or the way of life we have chosen is no longer there. The withdrawal of the international forces from Afghanistan will not lead to the Taliban coming back.”
Provincial police boss General Sardar Mohammad Zazai said Friday’s blast occurred at a coalition base about 5km outside Khost. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
“It was a very strong blast. Khost city shook and we heard firing,” Zazai said.
Gula Jan, an Afghan police official at the scene, said the attack occurred at Camp Salerno.