Allied forces in the strategically important southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar are being dealt a military and psychological blow by Taliban fighters who have killed at least 46 security personnel and taken hostages during an attack on the city’s airport. The airport compound houses the joint Afghan military and NATO headquarters.

The hostages include women and small children.

Kandahar airport director Ahmadullah Faizi says passengers waiting to board a commercial flight to India are trapped inside the airport’s civilian terminal.

Afghan Officials say that the attackers have managed to breach the first security wall of the complex.

The Afghan defense ministry says that 37 civilians and members of the security forces have been killed, with another 35 injured, along with nine Taliban killed. A Taliban statement claims they have killed 80 soldiers.

A doctor at a military hospital on the complex says 41 bodies have “been received, including four soldiers”.

The attack is a huge security failure, as the Taliban fighters were able to smuggle weapons into a heavily fortified and guarded area.

The Taliban statement says “martyrdom seekers” entered the airbase undetected to begin “thunderous attacks on foreign and hireling personnel”.

Kandahar army commander Sher Shah says intercepts of radio communication between the Taliban were in Urdu, a common language in neighbouring Pakistan. Afghanistan officials often blame Pakistan for unrest.

The attack is taking place as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits Pakistan for a regional conference being attended by the U.S., India and Pakistan in an attempt to begin peace talks with the Taliban.

The Taliban have scored a series of battlefield victories over the last few months, including briefly capturing the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

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