A hostage siege by Taliban attackers near the Kandahar Airfield military base stretched into a second day on Wednesday, leaving dozens dead, and in neighboring Helmand Province, the insurgents were reported to have overrun a major district.
After about 24 hours of fighting, Zia Durrani, a spokesman for the Kandahar police, said Wednesday night that the shootout was over and that the casualty toll was mostly civilian: At least 37 people were killed, including three members of the security forces and several children, and 33 people were wounded.
The attack began at 6:20 pm on Tuesday, officials said, when 16 insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and assault rifles fired at an Afghan military convoy, the military said.
The Taliban fighters then barricaded themselves into at least three places in the residential and shopping area for the families of security forces at the base, including a building used to train teachers and a former school building being used for shops. They took hostages, including a family that had been shopping.
“When the bombers got into the vicinity of civilians, they first targeted the shopkeepers indiscriminately,” Mr. Durrani said. “The shops caught fire.”
He added that the hostage family was among the dead and that the final toll was expected to rise once the area was fully searched.
Gen. Dawood Shah Wafadar, an Afghan Army corps commander based at the sprawling airfield, said 14 of the attackers, including four wearing explosives vests, had been killed. The search for two others continued, but it remained unclear whether the attackers remained hidden in the residential buildings they had holed up in or had fled.
Col. Michael Lawhorn, a spokesman for NATO in Afghanistan, said the insurgents had not made it onto Kandahar Airfield itself. He said that some rockets had been fired toward facilities used by American troops, but that no American service members had been wounded and no aircraft damaged, The New York Times reported.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said the insurgents had sent 10 suicide bombers on the mission, wearing Afghan Army uniforms. On their website, the Taliban posted a video message of the attackers wearing white robes and sitting in front of the Taliban flag. They also posted a picture of the 10 men dressed in what looked like United States military uniforms.
“It is my suggestion from Obama: Obama, you are not safe in Afghanistan,” one of the attackers said in broken English, brandishing a knife. His two colleagues seated next to him could not restrain their chuckles, seemingly at his grammatical mistakes. “When you are go anywhere, we will kill them there. We will finish your technology and kill your power.”
Abdul Ali Shamsi, the deputy governor of Kandahar Province, said the clearance operation lasted so long because Afghan security forces were moving carefully to avoid casualties among civilians or the hostages.
In neighboring Helmand Province, the Taliban overran a district, Khanashin, after 24 hours of intense fighting that left more than a dozen policemen killed, according to the provincial council chief, Mohammad Karim Attal.