Afghanistan today said its forces have repelled a Taliban attack on the Kandahar airport that lasted more than 24 hours and left 50 people dead, mainly civilians.
The defence ministry said the dead included 38 civilians, 10 Afghan soldiers and two police. It said the 11 ''terrorists'' who took part in the assault were also killed, and the fighting ended late on Wednesday.
Afghan forces have struggled to roll back Taliban advances since the US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of last year.
The sprawling airport, known as Kandahar Air Field, has a military and a civilian section, as well as a NATO base. There were no coalition casualties.
Local residents said they had heard soldiers pleading with the insurgents to free women and children, who were screaming during the fighting that erupted shortly after sundown in the southern city on Tuesday.
One security official told AFP that the assailants held some civilians as ''human shields'', which had complicated their clearance operation.
The brazen raid on the sprawling compound is the second major Taliban assault in as many days in the city recognised as the birthplace of the Taliban. The militants had managed to breach the first gate of the high-security complex and took up position in an old school building, engaging security forces in pitched gunfights.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying on Twitter that ''150 Afghan and foreign soldiers'' had been killed in the fierce fighting. The insurgents are regularly known to exaggerate battlefield claims.
The raid coincides with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's high-profile visit to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia conference aimed at promoting regional ties. Ghani's willingness to visit longtime nemesis Pakistan, which wields considerable influence over the Taliban, has signalled a renewed push to mend badly frayed cross-border ties which in turn could help jump-start peace talks with the insurgents.
The raid also comes after days of fevered speculation about the fate of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour following reports that he was critically wounded in a firefight with his own commanders in Pakistan.