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Battle at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan kills 37 civilians, including 4 children

Battle at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan kills 37 civilians, including 4 children
Civilians wait as Afghan security forces guard at the main gate of Kandahar airport during a clash between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces Dec. 9. (Allauddin Khan / Associated Press)

Afghan security forces on Wednesday battled Taliban militants who stormed the airport complex in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar in an assault that killed 37 civilians, officials said.

The attack by more than a dozen assailants, reportedly wearing the uniforms of Afghan security forces, began Tuesday evening. The airport serves as a base for U.S. forces and CIA operations in southern Afghanistan, and is also used by Afghan forces.

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Nine attackers and 37 civilians were killed, including four children and others working in a residential area for army families, according to Gen. Daud Shah Wafadar, an Afghan army commander in Kandahar. One attacker was arrested.

Another 35 civilians were wounded.

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The Defense Ministry said in a later statement that one militant is still "resisting," suggesting that the fighting had not yet ended.

Security officials offered few details of the operation. The Taliban claimed in a statement that it had killed dozens of soldiers, although the insurgent group regularly exaggerates the death tolls from its operations.

The attack came as representatives from more than two dozen countries met in neighboring Pakistan at a one-day conference on improving security in Afghanistan more than 14 years after the U.S.-led military invasion.

The leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan jointly opened the conference, with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif saying Islamabad wanted to revive peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban that have been stalled since the summer.

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government has accused Pakistan of supporting Taliban and allied insurgents whose aim is to destabilize Afghanistan. In a speech, Ghani praised Pakistan's pledge to resume talks and respect Afghan sovereignty.

"Your words today have gone a very long way to assure us in this regard, and that opens up the possibility for sustained dialogue among us," Ghani said.

For more news from South Asia, follow @SBengali on Twitter

Special correspondent Jawad reported from Kabul and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

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