Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Taliban rocket attacks rise at Kandahar airbase

July 17, 2010
ISAF civilian and military personnel sit in a shelter during a ground and rocket attack by militants at Kandahar Air Field earlier this year. - REUTERS/Nikola Solic

ISAF civilian and military personnel sit in a shelter during a ground and rocket attack by militants at Kandahar Air Field earlier this year. - REUTERS/Nikola Solic

AS U.S. and NATO forces ramp up their operation against Taliban centres in southern Afghanistan, insurgents are fighting back with increasing numbers of rockets fired at the biggest coalition base of them all.

Several times a night now sirens blare at the sprawling Kandahar Air Field, known as  KAF, which is home to 30,000 troops and support staff, while loudspeakers scream “rocket attack, rocket attack”.

At that point everyone is supposed to lie on the ground for two minutes to see out any impact, before moving out to sit in the closest shelters.

Such attacks used to occur only once every few weeks, but they are now happening several times a night or at least every few nights.

I rolled from bed in a tented media dorm at around 11pm last night and smacked on the floor, before heading out into the night. Sirens sounded again at almost 5am and a third time at 6am. Only once did I hear a low boom in the distance.

“They fire them from the mountains to the northwest and sometimes they hit pretty close,” an American officer told me while we sat bleary-eyed in a makeshift bunker of mobile concrete walls.

“After the siren sounds you only have a few seconds before the rockets hits and they rarely fire multiples.

“At night the aim for the lights, and most of the lights are here near the boardwalk,” he continued referring the dusty, sun-blasted square of shops that passes for a social centre.

The KAF boardwalk includes KFC, pizza restaurants, carpet stores, coffee shops and huge tax-free PX stores dealing everything from laptop computers to cigarettes, sweets, DVDs, magazines and clothing.

Unguided rockets landing nearby by have caused injuries in the past, but such strikes are thankfully rare.

“They mean to hit the runway or the flight line, but they usually way overshoot or undershoot,” the officer says. “But they are certainly trying their luck more often.”

In the meantime, some KAF denizens are casual about the warnings, continuing their jogs or showering and ignoring the sirens completely.

Others pull chairs into the concrete bunkers and read books until the all-clear, or carry in take-out food to ensure meals are not interrupted by a rocket strike.

But not too many are that casual.

At breakfast in the huge cafeteria the other day I joined several hundred soldiers and airmen on the floor after an alarm, while a table of Canadian troops remained seated, laughing at the commotion and continuing with their meal.

“It’s just an oven alarm,” a sergeant at the table yelled to the room, while everyone else stood sheepishly.

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