A national day of mourning has been declared by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani following the deaths of many soldiers during an attack by Taliban fighters on Friday.
The Taliban infiltrated an Afghan military base, disguised as fellow soldiers, killing more than 100 men (reports are as high as 140 or more) in an tragedy described as the deadliest of its kind.
When he visited the base on Saturday, Ghani ordered flags to be flown at half mast on Sunday to honor and remember soldiers who were killed.
The attack, which took place in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, sheds light on the difficulty the Afghan government faces in a struggle to defeat the Taliban insurgency. The Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps has it’s headquarters there. They have played a major roll in the fight, including in Kunduz, an area seeing a lot of conflict in northern Afghanistan.
After an emergency meeting with senior officials, Ghani called for an investigation into the attack. Condemning it as “cowardly”, he said the attack was carried out by “infidels.”
Dressed in Afghan army uniforms, approximately 10 Taliban fighters drove military vehicles onto the base. They opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles. They also detonated several suicide vests. The attack was made on soldiers that were eating and exiting a mosque after Friday prayers, most of them unarmed, according to officials.
Witnesses say soldiers were confused, unsure who their attackers were.
“It was a chaotic scene and I didn’t know what to do,” said an army officer present during the attack. The wounded soldier said, “There was gunfire and explosions everywhere.”
On Saturday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the recent killing of several senior Taliban leaders in northern Afghanistan led to the attack, described as”retribution” for the deaths.
U.S. military confirms that an American air strike in Kabul killed Taliban commander Quari Tayib and eight other Taliban on April 17. Mujahid reports upwards of 500 soldiers, including senior commanders, were killed in that attack.
Mujahis alleges the infiltrators were Taliban sympathizers. He said they’d been in Afghan army service for “some time.” Those allegations have not been confirmed by the Afghan army.
“The attack on the 209th Corps today shows the barbaric nature of the Taliban,” U.S. General John Nicholson said in a statement on Friday. Nicholson is the commander of NATO-led coalition forces.
“The situation shows that we cannot stop supporting, training and advising our Afghan partners,” said a German Operations Command spokesman. German forces have been at the head of the multi-national efforts in Afghanistan. Military officials in Berlin said the mission on the base will cease for a few days while the investigation by the Afghan army takes place, but would resume.
NATO coalition officials report no foreign troops were hurt in the attack, although advisers that train and assist Afghan forces were on the base.
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