Six U.S. fighter jets were destroyed and two significantly damaged when insurgents stormed a heavily fortified Afghan base where Britain’s Prince Harry is deployed on Friday, a NATO spokesman said.
Lieutenant Colonel Hagen Messer conceded that the scale of damage, carried out by more than a dozen attackers dressed in U.S. Army uniforms and armed with guns, rockets and suicide vests who managed to storm the airfield, was unprecedented.
Three coalition refueling stations were also destroyed and six aircraft hangars damaged in the assault at Camp Bastion in southern Helmand province, one of the toughest battlegrounds of the war, the U.S.-led NATO force said.
In a statement, it said the attack was “well-coordinated” and carried out by around 15 insurgents, who were organized into three teams and who penetrated the perimeter fence.
“The insurgents appeared to be well equipped, trained and rehearsed,” targeting fighter jets and helicopters parked next to the runway, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in the statement released nearly 36 hours after the assault began.
Meanwhile, four soldiers fighting with the NATO-led alliance were killed in an attack believed to involve members of the Afghan police in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, the coalition said.
The attack came a day after two British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman while returning from a patrol in southern Helmand province, one of the strongholds of the Taliban-led insurgency.
The shooting took place in Zabol, a southern province where U.S. forces are based, according to a local official, who said all four soldiers killed were American.
One attacker who was wearing an Afghan National Police uniform (ANP) was also killed in the fighting, the source said.
At least 51 foreign military personnel have been killed in “insider” attacks this year, attacks which have put a heavy strain on trust between the coalition and Afghanistan as they move towards handing security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
The rise in such attacks has led to the training of new recruits to the Afghan army and police being suspended.
With foreign combat troops withdrawing from the increasingly unpopular and expensive war, the enormous cultural divide that still separates Afghans and their allies after 11 years of conflict has become more of a concern than ever.
The NATO-led coalition and its Afghan counterparts have created a special Joint Casualties Assessment Team to investigate every attack, which number at least 37 this year.
In more than half of cases, attackers are either killed or escape and the motive never emerges, making it more difficult for the coalition to stem the surge.