The Taliban carried out a pre-dawn assault Friday against a major military base in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 25 troops and taking “a number of others” hostage.
Afghan officials and Taliban sources say a group of heavily armed insurgents in military uniforms, including suicide bombers, stormed the Shorab base in Helmand province, which also housed U.S. troops. The raid began with a suicide bomber detonating his explosives-filled vehicle at the main gate and enabling other assailants to enter the fortified compound.
The ensuing clashes continued until late afternoon. Afghan officials were unclear whether security forces killed and cleared the base of all the attackers because heavy rain in the area hampered the operation.
The provincial governor’s office said in a statement at least nine assailants, including three suicide bombers, were killed by Afghan forces and a clearance operation was underway. It did not give any details about casualties suffered by Afghan forces.
A local security official speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity confirmed the death of at least 25 Afghan troops. Sources said more than two dozen Taliban rebels participated in the raid and took hostage an unspecified number of security personnel who were asleep in one of the rooms at the time of the attack.
A Taliban statement claimed its “mujahideen (holy warriors)” killed dozens of security personnel, including Americans, and putting strong resistance after taking up positions inside the base. It went on to claim insurgents destroyed several aircraft inside the base and also killed six pilots, though insurgent claims are often inflated.
Just hours after the attack began, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, rejected Taliban claims as “more lies,” saying the attack "was repelled by the brave Afghan security forces.”
It was not possible to independently verify claims made by either side.
In a statement late last year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed his forces have lost almost 30,000 personnel since he took office in September 2014. Afghan civilians also have borne the brunt of the intensified hostilities and almost 4,000 civilians were killed in 2018, according to the United Nations.
The Taliban attack comes as insurgent negotiators are due to resume peace talks with American interlocutors in Qatar on Saturday after a two-day break.