Afghanistan in Mourning after Deadly Taliban Assault on Afghan Army Base
Afghanistan is observing a national day of mourning after a Taliban suicide raid on a military base in the north of the country killed scores of soldiers, in the deadliest attack on Afghan forces since 2001.
Witnesses said a group of 10 heavily armed suicide bombers aboard two army vehicles and disguised as government soldiers stormed the Afghan National Army’s 209th Shaheen Corps Headquarters Friday in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the northern Balkh province.
Local television stations quoted an unnamed security official and regional politicians Saturday as saying that “at least 140 soldiers were killed in Friday afternoon’s attack… and at least 100 soldiers were also wounded.”
Survivors being treated at a city hospital told local TOLOnews TV they believed without “inside help” it would not have been possible for the attackers to make their way to the center of the heavily fortified military base where the mosque is located.
“We are soldiers from the corps but we cannot enter the base easily, but it is unfortunate that suicide bombers managed to enter the base easily. My foot was wounded in this incident,” a wounded solider identified as Lotfullah told the private television station.
According to local officials, one group of Taliban assailants sprayed Afghan soldiers with bullets as they were leaving a mosque following afternoon prayers, while another group stormed a dining facility at the military compound before Afghan commandos surrounded and engaged them in fierce gun-battles.
Taliban takes credit
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, swiftly took credit for the attack. He released fresh details to reporters on Saturday along with a picture of the purported bombers. Mujahid claimed the siege lasted for ten hours and “up to 500 enemy soldiers were killed and wounded, including key officers.”
The spokesman said the deadly raid was a retaliation for the recent killings of Taliban shadow governors for the neighboring Kunduz and Baghlan provinces along with a number of colleagues by U.S. backed Afghan forces.
He warned that Friday’s attack on the army headquarters in Balkh is “a message for all the enemy soldiers, police, intelligence operatives and relevant [Afghan] institutions that this year’s [Taliban] operations will be more brutal and painful for them.”
Afghan security forces have suffered massive casualties since U.S.-led foreign combat troops left Afghanistan in 2014. In the first eight months of 2016, insurgent attacks killed close to 7,000 Afghan security forces, according to figures local officials shared with the U.S. military.