Death toll from Taliban attack on Afghan army base climbs to 170

The number of dead from a Taliban raid on a military base has increased, sources say, even as Afghanistan observed a national day of mourning on Sunday amid anger and calls for resignation of defence and army officials.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Flags flew at half-mast throughout the country and special prayers were said for the dead Afghan soldiers on Sunday.

The death toll from a Taliban assault on an Afghan army base has climbed to 170, officials told TRT World. 

The figure continues to rise even as the country observed a national day of mourning on Sunday following Friday's deadly attack that prompted angry calls for ministers and army chiefs to resign.

The Taliban raid on the military base underscores their growing strength more than 15 years after they were ousted from power.

Flags flew at half-mast throughout the country and special prayers were said for the dead on Sunday. 

Earlier, the defence ministry gave a figure of at least 100 soldiers killed or wounded. Kabul has so far ignored media calls for a complete breakdown of casualties from the five-hour attack near the provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif.

But local officials including Mohammad Ibrahim Khairandish, the head of the provincial council, put the death toll as high as 130 and said about 60 were wounded. 

As many as 10 Taliban fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniforms and driving military vehicles, made their way into the base and opened fire on mostly unarmed soldiers eating and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers, according to officials. 

According to TRT World's Bilal Sarwary, the government isn't allowing media to enter the military base. 


Insider attack?

A military source at the base indicated the assault was an insider attack, and the fighters were "young recruits who had come for training."

We always thought our house is safe because of the base but now we are shocked. How could this have happened? I can't believe we lost all these young men  — Local resident Faiz Mohammad

There was also growing anger online, with many slamming the government for its inability to counter a series of brazen Taliban assaults, including one on the country's largest military hospital in Kabul in March that left dozens dead.

Twelve army officers, including two generals, were sacked for negligence over that attack.

President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi said that a thorough probe had been ordered. 

Investigations must be acceptable to the nation and the president," he vowed, adding "At this moment, the people of Afghanistan need to unite like a strong fist — Shah Hussain Murtazawi

Taliban's "sigh of strength"

Many internet commentators called for the resignation of Defence Minister Abdullah Habibi and the commander of the 209th Corps stationed at the base. 

Afghan troops and police, beset by killings and desertions, have been struggling to beat back insurgents since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.

Afghan security force casualties soared by 35 percent in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to US watchdog Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 

TRTWorld and agencies