The Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan did far more damage than initially reported, destroying six attack jets and severely damaging two others in the single most destructive strike on Western materiel in the 11-year war, military officials told The New York Times on Sunday.
While other attacks have caused greater loss of life, the assault late Friday at the Helmand province camp, one of the largest and best-defended posts in Afghanistan, was troubling to NATO because the attackers were able to penetrate the base, kill two U.S. Marines and cause more than $200 million in damage.
“We’re saying it’s a very sophisticated attack,” the military official was reported as saying. “We’ve lost aircraft in battle, but nothing like this.”
The attack, which NATO officials told the paper was conducted by three choreographed teams of militants wearing American Army uniforms, was a reminder that the Taliban remain capable of serious assaults, despite the “surge” offensive against them.
According to the Times, military investigators will look to uncover whether the insurgents had help from inside the camp and whether they were trained or aided by Pakistan or Iran, which have allowed the Taliban to take refuge on their territory.
The 15 insurgents blew a hole in the perimeter at one of the closest points to the airfield, military officials said. They then raced toward their targets, shooting and setting fire to parked Navy AV-8B Harrier jets and destroying three refueling stations, even as a quick reaction force was mustering, a military official is reported as saying.
All but one was killed; the remaining insurgent is in custody.
Two Marines were killed and nine coalition personnel, including a civilian contractor, were wounded, the military said in a statement. Prince Harry, the third in line to the British throne, was there at the time of the attack, but was not hurt. Camp Bastion is home mostly to British soldiers, while neighboring Camp Leatherneck has American Marines and other servicemembers.
Determining how insurgents could wreak havoc on such a well-defended base, particularly one with clear lines of sight across miles of mostly flat plain, will be important in determining whether this was a unique attack or one that could be replicated either in targeting Western bases or Afghan ones, military experts told the Times.
Wahid Mujda, an Afghan analyst who tracks the Taliban, predicted that the Afghan government and the international military forces here would see similar attacks in the future.
“[The Taliban] have experts, strategists, planners and designers, they have a great knowledge of the modern technology,” Mujda told the Times. “My sources in the Taliban tell me that every time they want to attack an important target they use Google Maps and other available means for studying and understanding their targets.”