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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 23:12 GMT
US base in Kandahar attacked
US soldier on a tank at Kandahar airbase
US officials said the attack was "pretty ineffective"
US troops have exchanged fire with gunmen who attacked the western perimeter of the US base at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

There were no reports of casualties in the brief exchange.

The unidentified attackers reportedly began firing small arms shortly after darkness fell, and US soldiers returned fire with machine guns and mortars.

Taleban prisoner
The airport houses a prison camp for al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners

Apache helicopter gunships set off to pinpoint where the firing was coming from.

In the confusion, US forces detained seven Afghans who later turned out to be members of an Afghan security force contracted to patrol the area outside the base perimeter, a spokesman for the US Central Command said.

"Once it was determined who they were, they were released," said Navy Commander Frank Merriman.

Eyewitnesses told BBC correspondents in the region that tracer fire could be seen and small explosions were heard for about half an hour in the area.

'Pretty ineffective'

Major Ralph Mills at the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida said three of the gunmen more escaped in a vehicle.

Major Mills stressed that the security of the base had not been compromised.

"I think it's safe to say it was pretty ineffective because the airfield was not penetrated at all," he said.

It is the second time the base, which houses 4,100 US troops and is also used as a prisoner camp for Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners, has come under attack.

In January this year assailants opened fire on a C-17 transport plane as it headed for Guantanamo Bay in Cuba with more than 20 detainees.

In a separate incident at Bagram airfield, about 60 kilometres (45 miles) north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, a soldier was killed when equipment fell on him as he was working.

See also:

12 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghans count cost of US bombing
12 Feb 02 | Middle East
US warns Iran over al-Qaeda help
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