2 Marines Killed in Attack in Southern Afghanistan

Heavily armed insurgents attacked a British air base in southern Afghanistan Friday, killing two U.S. Marines and wounding several other troops, U.S. officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility on Saturday for the attack, saying it was to avenge an anti-Islamic film which insulted the Prophet Muhammad and also because Britain's Prince Harry is serving there.  

 The U.S.-led NATO coalition said in a statement that the overnight attack focused on Camp Bastion, a huge British base adjacent to Camp Leatherneck which houses U.S. Marine operations in southern Helmand province. 

Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is based at Camp Bastion. A spokesperson for Britain's Ministry of Defense told The Associated Press that he was unharmed in the attack.

Capt. Harry Wales, as the prince is known in the military, is serving a four-month combat deployment as a gunner on an Apache helicopter. Harry, who turns 28 on Saturday, is expected to start flying Apache missions this week. This is his second tour in Afghanistan.

In its statement, the International Security Assistance Force, NATO's Afghan mission, said that insurgents attacked "with both small arms fire and indirect fire killing two ISAF service members and causing damage to buildings and aircraft on the flight line. Currently, ISAF forces are in the process of assessing the extent of the damage." Indirect fire usually refers to mortars or rockets.

No details were provided on the dead and wounded, but U.S. officials said in Washington that two Marines were killed in the attack.

Lt. Col. Stewart Upton, a spokesman at Camp Leatherneck, and Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Helmand's governor, said 16 Taliban fighters were also killed.

It was unclear what the insurgents hoped to accomplish in attacking Camp Bastion, one of the largest and most heavily defended military facilities in Afghanistan.

Bastion is located in a remote desert area northwest of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand. It is the hub for all British operations in Helmand and along with Leatherneck houses thousands of combat troops and Marines, including Danish and Estonian forces.

Afghanistan's southern region has been a hotbed of the insurgency and attacks against foreign forces occur daily, although the Taliban have largely been routed in its capital and larger towns. Helmand remains an active battlefield between insurgents and NATO forces and for years has been the site of some of the war's bloodiest engagements.

There were few protests against the film in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday. The largest involved a few hundred people in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The Afghan government has indefinitely blocked YouTube to prevent Afghans from viewing a video clip of the film that was posted on the internet site, said Khair Mohammad Faizi, a spokesman for communication ministry. He said it will remain blocked until the video is taken down.


It also was not clear Friday whether the attack was linked at all to the protests and violence across the Muslim world this week that has been linked to an anti-Islamic film. Afghanistan's southern region has been a hotbed of the insurgency and frequent attacks.