KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Taliban insurgents staged an evening mountain pass ambush on an Afghan police convoy patrolling a key highway, killing 15 officers and wounding 10 in western Afghanistan’s Farah province, a provincial official said Thursday, the latest in a string of escalating insurgent attacks around the country.
The ambush late Wednesday came on the same day as the Taliban launched their most complex attack this year, a failed effort to overrun a NATO base in eastern Ghazni province that killed one U.S. soldier and wounded 10 Polish soldiers and dozens of Afghans.
In the mountain pass attack, insurgents fled unharmed after they attacked about 40 officers in the convoy driving on the main trade route through the province, Farah provincial spokesman Abdul Rahman Zhawandai said Thursday. And in another strike nearby, rockets killed six truck drivers and destroyed dozens of trucks that carry fuel for coalition forces.
The Taliban have escalated attacks in recent months as they try to take advantage of the withdrawal of foreign troops, who handed over security for the country to Afghan forces two months ago. There are about 100,000 troops from 48 countries in Afghanistan with the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, 60,000 of them American. By the end of this year, the NATO force will be halved, and all foreign combat troops will have left by the end of next year.
Because of the drawdown, much is riding on the abilities of the fledgling Afghan security forces, which now number about 352,000.
Afghan and coalition officials have warned that the Taliban would intensify the tempo of their attacks following the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, as they try to take advantage of the two or three months left of good weather before the harsh Afghan winter sets in. The traditional fighting season lasts from March until the end of October.
A total of 35 people were killed and 73 were wounded Wednesday in the ambush, the base assault, and in three other attacks around the country.
Before dawn Wednesday near the ambush site, rockets were fired at a fuel truck parking lot, and one truck full of gasoline exploded after being hit. The raging fire destroyed about 35 of the 40 trucks in the lot and killed six of the drivers, who spend the night there because the threat of insurgent attacks on highways makes it too dangerous for them to drive after dark.
In their most brazen attack so far this year, insurgents managed to kill the U.S. soldier and wound the Polish soldiers in an attack involving multiple vehicle bombs and nearly 20 Taliban fighters at a coalition base in the eastern city of Gahzni. Officials said the insurgents breached the outer perimeter of the facility, but 15 of them were killed in a failed attempt to take over interior parts of the base to kill more foreigners.
One of the Polish soldiers was in serious condition, and the Gahzni hospital said 52 civilians and Afghan security force personnel were wounded, including 24 women and children. Though the attack was horrific, officials said it would have been much worse if the insurgents had not been killed.
“The Afghan army prevented huge casualties among civilian and military personnel,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi.
The Afghan National Security Forces since taking over security from the coalition have so far managed to thwart most large attacks and have not lost any territory to the insurgents’ campaign of suicide bombings and ambushes around the country.
“While the assessment is still ongoing, we can say that this coordinated attack was blunted because of the diligence of the ISAF and Afghan troops on the ground who fought to defeat the insurgents,” said Col. Christopher Garver, ISAF Joint Command spokesman.
The assault on the base housing a Provincial Reconstruction Team run by the Poles began when a truck loaded with explosives detonated near the eastern gate of the facility. The explosion in a residential area wounded most of the civilians and collapsed a wall, allowing 10 insurgents wearing bomb-laden suicide vests to rush in through the breach.
They were killed before they got far into the base, Deputy Ghazni Gov. Mohammad Ali Ahmadi said.
An Afghan quick reaction force responded as a second car bomb detonated on the opposite side of the base and killed five Taliban who were trying to get in from that side, Ali Ahmadi said. The force later discovered and defused two other massive car bombs that were located near the base, he said.
“The plan they had was really big and it was to hit the PRT from four sides and kill as many foreigners as they could,” Ahmadi said. “But the Afghan forces responded quickly and were able to kill them all.”