The full scale of the Taliban attack on Camp Bastion became clear yesterday as it emerged that 15 insurgents wearing US Army uniforms destroyed six Harrier jets, three refuelling stations and damaged a number of aircraft hangars.
As well as the two US marines who were killed, nine coalition staff were wounded in the attack, Isaf, the International Security Assistance Force coalition in Afghanistan, said.
Coalition forces killed 14 insurgents and wounded one other, who was then taken into custody.
The attack happened shortly after 10pm on Friday, when Taliban fighters, organised into three groups and armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests, breached the camp’s perimeter.
The offensive took place near an airfield on the north-east side of the base, which houses American forces in Camp Leatherneck.
An Isaf spokesman said: “The insurgents appeared to be well equipped, trained and rehearsed.
“Dressed in US Army uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests, the insurgents attacked coalition fixed and rotary wing aircraft parked on the flight line, aircraft hangars and other buildings.”
The official said the six Harrier jets destroyed were US marine aircraft and that two others were significantly damaged.
Six aircraft hangars were also damaged.
The nine personnel who were wounded included eight military and one civilian contractor, Isaf said. None of the injuries is thought to be life-threatening.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on Camp Bastion, saying it was carried out because Prince Harry was on the base, and also as revenge for an anti-Islamic film.
The Prince was unharmed and defence experts said on Saturday that he should not be withdrawn from his military role in Afghanistan, despite the attack.
Harry, an Army captain flying Apache helicopters, is based at Camp Bastion for his second tour of duty to the country, which is due to last four months.
He was about two kilometres away with other crew members of the Apache attack helicopters, of which he is a co-pilot gunner, when the attack took place, sources said.
Tory MP Colonel Bob Stewart, a former commander of British troops in Bosnia, said he did not think the Prince should be pulled out of Afghanistan because of the attack by the Taliban.
“To hell with them,” he said. “Harry wants to go there and our soldiers want him there. He should stay.”
But Col Stewart stressed the security considerations regarding the deployment of the Prince were flexible.
“These things aren’t set in concrete. If circumstances really change then we’ll make different judgments.”
He added: “Capturing, killing or hurting Prince Harry would be a huge propaganda coup for the Taliban.”
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, told The Associated Press: “We attacked that base because Prince Harry was also on it and so they can know our anger.”
He added: “Thousands more suicide attackers are ready to give up their lives for the sake of the Prophet.”
Major Charles Heyman, a former infantry officer and editor of The Armed Forces of the United Kingdom publication, warned against the dangers of “playing into the hands of the Taliban”.
He said: “On balance it is a difficult equation but I think he should be kept there.
“If we take him away the Taliban will crow that they have just scored a major victory. The second point is it would affect the morale of the troops on the ground if Prince Harry was taken out just because there was a threat.”
Maj Heyman added that it was not the first time Camp Bastion had been targeted.
“The Taliban have been doing these things for five years now,” he said. “Bastion is a huge complex. It is really a military city. This is one of those pinprick attacks that went right as they killed two US Marines. But in most of them no one gets hurt.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The threat to all our service personnel is continually assessed and all measures taken to mitigate it.
“As we stated last week, the deployment of Captain Wales has been long planned and the threat to him and others around him thoroughly assessed. We stated that any risk posed by his deployment, based on the capability, opportunity and intent of the insurgency, is continually reviewed.”
An anti-Islamic film sparked a series of protests and violence across the Muslim world this week.
An MoD source said: “After saying this attack was mounted in reaction to the video on Islam, it is entirely predictable that the Taliban have changed their tune to say it was aimed at Captain Wales. The insurgency who mounted this attack – most of who were killed by Isaf – were nowhere near Captain Wales, who with other UK and Isaf personnel was under lockdown.”
Harry, who celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday, arrived on September 7.
He has been undergoing training to fly operations in Apache attack helicopters and is expected to start flying missions this week as a co-pilot gunner.
Camp Bastion is a huge base in the middle of the desert and is shared with US, Estonian, Danish and Afghan troops. It is the logistics hub for operations in Helmand, with supply convoys and armoured patrols regularly leaving its heavily defended gates, to support the military forward operating bases, patrol bases and checkpoints spread across the province.