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Afghan Forces Battle Taliban In Daylong Attack That Killed Dozens

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are learning more about an attack in Afghanistan that lasted 26 hours and took the lives of at least 50 people, many of them children. This happened near Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, where American and Afghan forces are operating. And the Taliban has claimed responsibility. For more on this, we've reached New York Times reporter Mujib Mashal in Kabul. Mujib, good morning.

MUJIB MASHAL: Good morning, David. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. What can you tell us about what took place at this airfield near Kandahar?

MASHAL: So a group of suicide bombers - about 14 of them - on Tuesday evening penetrated the vicinity of the base - of the airfield. And they were holed up in residential buildings and shopping areas. And they fought for about 26 hours, leaving at least 50 people dead. Those numbers could still go up because what we are hearing is that a lot of the shops were burned. And some of the bodies were in bad shape, which made it difficult to tally the numbers.

GREENE: And I'm just trying to understand where exactly this is happening. You said these suicide bombers were holed up like in residential buildings that are sort of where people live near this air base?

MASHAL: It's a huge, sprawling airfield, the Kandahar Airfield - the biggest in southern Afghanistan, which is house to U.S. military, Afghan military, but that's also where the CIA operates from also. So what we're hearing is that it was past the civilian side of the airport, but before you reach the military side of the airfield. There are some residential blocks there, mostly for families of security forces and retired military folks. So it was a small residential area nearby.

GREENE: And as far as we know, it was Afghan civilians and people, as you say, who were related to Afghan security operations who were killed or injured here.

MASHAL: Largely Afghan civilians - the Ministry of Defense in Afghanistan's saying 50 people were killed, 38 of them were civilians and 12 of them were security forces. And there was a hostage-taking situation also, so we're hearing that the hostage families were also killed.

GREENE: And the Taliban, they came out and claimed responsibility. I mean, what exactly did they say?

MASHAL: They posted a video of the attackers on their website. And the video shows 10 young men sort of giving a message to President Obama in broken English. And what's weird about the video is when the guy's giving the message, there are two other young men sitting next to him who can't hold back sort of smiling and chuckling because the English of the guy giving the message is so bad. And the guy basically says, President Obama, we're giving you a warning, your forces are not safe in Afghanistan. You've said that you will extend the presence here across several bases, but we will come after you anywhere. But the irony is that there was no harm to American forces, as far as we know. It was all Afghan civilians and some security forces that died.

GREENE: Well, I mean, given that video you're describing, you know, the message for President Obama, given this attack - what does this tell us about the threat from the Taliban right now?

MASHAL: Well, we know that this fighting season, the Taliban have been deadlier than in previous years. And it's been a surprise to many people to think that their strength is so high after 14 years of fighting. But the bigger question it raises is that yesterday, Afghan and American and Chinese officials were in Pakistan trying to restart a peace process. While they were holding talks in Pakistan, the violence continued in Kandahar. So it raises a question of whether there is a resolve on the part of the Taliban to sit down for talks or not.

GREENE: All right, that's Mujib Mashal, a reporter for The New York Times based in Kabul. Mujib, thanks very much.

MASHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.