KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - The Taliban claimed responsibility on Saturday for an attack against a sprawling British base in southern Afghanistan that killed two U.S. Marines and wounded several other troops, 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.
"We attacked that base because Prince Harry was also on it and so they can know our anger," Taliban spokesman Qari Youssef Ahmadi said by telephone. He added, "Thousands more suicide attackers are ready to give up their lives for the sake of the Prophet."
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, which according to Britain's Press Association took place two kilometers (one mile) from the section of the complex where the prince was located. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
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.
Other Google services, including gmail, were also blocked in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday. Faizi did not comment on this.
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans