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Afghan men mourn Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, near the coffin of Mohammad Sami, 21, who was killed the day before in clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. The death toll from more than 24 hours of heavy fighting at the air field has risen to 50, most of them civilians.

Afghan men mourn Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, near the coffin of Mohammad Sami, 21, who was killed the day before in clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. The death toll from more than 24 hours of heavy fighting at the air field has risen to 50, most of them civilians. (Allauddin Khan/AP)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The death toll from more than 24 hours of heavy fighting between Taliban fighters and Afghan troops at a major airport in southern Afghanistan has risen to 50, most of them civilians, the Afghan Defense Ministry said.

Many conflicting reports have come out about the clash, but officials now say 11 attackers wearing suicide vests laid siege to the Kandahar Airport Tuesday evening, using rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles in an attempt to breach the perimeter of the adjacent military base.

After getting past the heavily fortified airport’s entrance gate, the militants holed up in a bazaar and a school building, putting dozens of civilians in the crossfire. Battles between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters raged for 27 hours, leaving 38 civilians, 10 Afghan soldiers and two Afghan policemen dead, the Defense Ministry said in statement. Thirty-five people were injured.

Afghan troops didn’t gain control of the area until Wednesday night, and the fighting shut down the airport, leaving some passengers trapped in the terminal until the fighting ceased.

Both American and Afghan military officials denied earlier reports that U.S. aircraft assisted in combating the attack.

Afghan and U.S. officials said the insurgents didn’t make it inside the perimeter of the military base, Kandahar Air Field, where roughly 2,000 U.S. troops are deployed. While the militants reportedly fired toward the base, Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan, said no American or coalition troops were injured or killed in the attack.

Kandahar Air Field, a former hub for tens of thousands of foreign troops and contractors, is located in southern Afghanistan’s largest city and the Taliban’s spiritual heartland. The Taliban, who often exaggerate the effects of their attacks, claimed responsibility on their website, saying the attackers killed scores of international and Afghan troops.

The attack will likely renew concerns about the capabilities of the Afghan security forces, who have been stretched by a stubborn insurgency since the international military coalition withdrew most of its troops and turned over responsibility for the country’s security to Afghan forces at the end of last year.

Roughly 10,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, largely in a training and advisory role, though a large proportion of them are also conducting counterterrorism operations. Continued fierce fighting between insurgents and Afghan troops prompted President Barack Obama to announce in October that he would extend the American military mission and keep the number of troops at roughly the current level into the coming year.

druzin.heath@stripes.com

Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes

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