Suicide bombers carrying rockets and grenades launched a brazen pre-dawn attack on one of the biggest military bases of NATO in Afghanistan on Tuesday, leaving at least seven guerrillas dead and six foreign troops wounded.
The fighting, which was continuing late into the morning, came the day after a suicide bomber attacked a NATO-led military convoy in Kabul, killing 12 Afghan civilians and six foreign troops, and may herald the start of an announced Taliban offensive against high-profile foreign targets.
The attack on Bagram air base, about an hour's drive north of Kabul and holding mainly U.S. troops, began in the pre-dawn hours when Taliban insurgents blew themselves up near the base's gates.
It continued with sporadic fire of rockets and small arms outside the base.
One rocket landed inside the base, causing minor damage, but no insurgents managed to get inside Bagram, according to NATO.
Helicopter gunships hovered about the base.
"We're always prepared to deal with attacks on our base, the response this morning was immediate," said Lt. Col. Clarence Counts, a spokesman for the Bagram base.
Four suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the base's gates. The Taliban said others managed to get inside, but the group often exaggerates their operations.
Senior police official Lutful Rahman said security forces were searching for one other bomber.
Boost for Taliban?
The latest attacks may boost the stature of the Taliban after the arrests of some senior leaders early this year in Pakistan, combined with a belated announcement for the spring offensive, had some saying the insurgents were on the defensive.
The Taliban have announced an offensive from May 20 against the government, foreign forces and diplomats in Afghanistan in response to NATO plans for an operation against the group's southern stronghold of Kandahar.
"The Taliban are trying to show their reaction to the expected plan of NATO's operation in Kandahar in coming weeks" said Noor Ul-Haq Ulomi, a former general during the ex-communist regime in the 1980s.
"(They) want to show ahead of it that they are strong as before and even getting stronger ... They want to show that with their small groups they are able to conduct organised attacks on NATO forces in Kabul and on their base in Bagram," he said.