KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban assault on an airport in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar that has been underway for nearly 24 hours has killed 37 people, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday.
A ministry statement said the assault, which began on Tuesday, also left 35 people wounded. It said nine attackers have been killed and one wounded. By evening Wednesday, one remaining attacker was still battling security forces, the statement said.
Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, said in a statement to media that the insurgents were still attacking Afghan forces and had killed "many soldiers and destroyed vehicles and helicopters." The claim could not be verified, and the Taliban often exaggerate battlefield victories.
The Taliban have expanded their footprint across the country in recent months, and in September captured and held the northern city of Kunduz for three days. Afghan forces have struggled to roll back the insurgents since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of last year.
The southern province of Kandahar, with the provincial capital by the same name, is a Taliban heartland. The sprawling airport in Kandahar city, known as Kandahar Air Field has both a military and a civilian section, as well as a NATO base.
In Brussels, a NATO spokesman for the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan said there were no coalition casualties in the Kandahar assault.
U.S. Army Col. Michael Lawhorn said the Taliban "never physically entered the airfield" in Kandahar but fired toward the air base from positions inside a local school nearby.
Meanwhile, reports from the western Herat province said dozens of insurgent were killed in clashes between rival Taliban factions — the mainstream group loyal to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and the breakaway faction that follows renegade Taliban commander Mullah Mohammad Rasool, said Rauf Ahmadi, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
"Since last two days of intense battle, between rival Taliban commanders in Shindand district, there are reports of more than 100 Taliban fighters being killed from both sides," said Ahmadi. He added that the fight broke out in Zerko area on Monday and around 30 others are wounded.
Ahmadi also said that battle has forced a number of villagers to flee, but that there have been no reports of civilian casualties so far.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousof Ahmadi denied the reports of the infighting, saying instead that the Taliban are fighting local police forces in Shindand district in Herat province.