KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. and Afghan troops repelled attackers wearing American uniforms and suicide vests in a pair of simultaneous assaults before dawn Saturday on NATO bases near the Pakistani border, including one where seven CIA employees died in a suicide attack last year.
The raids appear part of an insurgent strategy to step up attacks in widely scattered parts of the country as the U.S. focuses its resources on the battle around the Taliban's southern birthplace of Kandahar.
The militant assault in the border province of Khost began about 4 a.m. when dozens of insurgents stormed Forward Operating Base Salerno and nearby Camp Chapman with mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, according to NATO and Afghan police.
Two attackers managed to breach the wire protecting Salerno but were killed before they could advance far onto the base, NATO said. Twenty-one attackers were killed — 15 at Salerno and six at Chapman — and five were captured, it said.
Three more insurgents, including a commander, were killed in an airstrike as they fled the area, NATO said.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said two Afghan soldiers were killed and three wounded in the fighting. Four U.S. troops were wounded, NATO officials said.
U.S. and Afghan officials blamed the attack on the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based faction of the Taliban with close ties to al-Qaida. Camp Chapman was the scene of the Dec. 30 suicide attack that killed the seven CIA employees.
Afghan police said about 50 insurgents took part in the twin assaults. After being driven away from the bases, the insurgents approached the nearby offices of the governor and provincial police headquarters but were also scattered, said Khost provincial police Chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai.
"Given the size of the enemy's force, this could have been a major catastrophe for Khost. Luckily we prevented it," he said.
Small-arms fire continued through the morning, while NATO helicopters patrolled overhead. The dead were wearing U.S. Army uniforms, which can be easily purchased in shops in Kabul and other cities, possibly pilfered from military warehouses.
TROOPS KILLED: Three American service members were killed Saturday, two in a bombing in the south and the third in fighting in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. command said. That brought to 38 the number of U.S. troops killed this month — well below last month's figure of 66.
CANDIDATE SLAIN: A candidate running for a seat in Parliament from Herat province in northwestern Afghanistan was shot and killed on his way to a mosque Saturday, said Lal Mohammad Omarzai, deputy governor of Shindand district. He said two men on a motorbike opened fire on Abdul Manan, a candidate in the September balloting. He died of his wounds.
Insurgents killed: Late Friday, insurgents stormed a police checkpoint in Takhar province near the northern border with Tajikistan. The Interior Ministry said nine insurgents were killed and 12 wounded.