KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban claimed responsibility yesterday for an attack on a sprawling British base in southern Afghanistan that killed two U.S. Marines and wounded several other troops, saying it was to avenge an anti-Islamic film that insulted the Prophet Mohammed and also because Britain's Prince Harry is serving there.
The U.S.-led NATO coalition said in a statement that nearly 20 insurgents armed with guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosive vests infiltrated the perimeter of Camp Bastion. The huge British base is adjacent to Camp Leatherneck, which houses U.S.-Marine operations in southern Helmand province.
The coalition said the attack, which began shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, killed two NATO service members, wounded several others and damaged multiple aircraft and structures. Coalition forces returned fire and killed 18 militants. By early yesterday NATO service members had cleared the base of attackers.
Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is based at Camp Bastion. A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defense told the AP that Prince Harry was unharmed in the attack, which according to Britain's Press Association took place two kilometers from the section of the complex where the prince was located. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
Capt. Harry Wales, as the prince is known in the military, is serving a four-month combat deployment as a gunner on an Apache helicopter. Harry, who turns 28 on Saturday, is expected to start flying Apache missions this week. This is his second tour in Afghanistan.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, said: "We attacked that base because Prince Harry was also on it and so they can know our anger." The group often tailors its claims to the news of the day.
"Thousands more suicide attackers are ready to give up their lives for the sake of the Prophet," Ahmadi said in a telephone call with The Associated Press.
In its statement, the International Security Assistance Force, NATO's Afghan mission, said insurgents attacked "with both small arms fire and indirect fire killing two ISAF service members and causing damage to buildings and aircraft." Indirect fire usually refers to mortars or rockets.
Jamie Graybeal, a coalition spokesman, confirmed that two U.S.-Marines died in the attack, but he said that how they died remained under investigation. Graybeal said two insurgents wearing suicide vests were part of the assaulting force, although he did not say whether they blew themselves up. One other insurgent, who was wounded, has been detained and is being given medical treatment, the coalition said.
It was unclear what the insurgents hoped to accomplish in attacking Camp Bastion, one of the largest and most heavily defended military facilities in Afghanistan.
Bastion is located in a remote desert area northwest of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand. It is the hub for all British operations in the province and along with Leatherneck houses thousands of combat troops and Marines, including Danish and Estonian forces.
Afghanistan's southern region has been a hotbed of the insurgency and attacks against foreign forces occur daily, although the Taliban have largely been routed in its capital and larger towns. Helmand remains an active battlefield between insurgents and NATO forces and for years has been the site of some of the war's bloodiest engagements.
There were a few protests against the film in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday. Meanwhile, the Afghan government has indefinitely blocked YouTube to prevent Afghans from viewing a video clip of the film that was posted on the Internet site, said Khair Mohammed Faizi, a spokesman for the Communication Ministry. He said it will remain blocked until the video is taken down. Other Google services, including gmail, were also blocked in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday. Faizi did not comment on this.
In other violence, a police vehicle hit a roadside bomb yesterday during a routine patrol in Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, killing a police inspector and wounding two other policemen.
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