ISLAMABAD - Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan attacked and overran a key army base in southeastern Ghazni province Saturday, capturing dozens of soldiers and killing several others.
The latest attack came on a day when the United States and NATO partners formally began withdrawing their militaries from the country after almost 20 years of war.
Two senior provincial council members told VOA the Afghan army had stationed dozens of its forces at the base outside the provincial capital, also named Ghazni, before the pre-dawn insurgent attack.
Local media reports said the ensuing clashes had lasted several hours and killed at least 17 soldiers.
Afghan army chief, Gen. Mohammad Yasin Zia, who is also the acting defense minister, confirmed to reporters in Kabul the fall of the security installation to insurgents, but he shared no further details.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said its fighters had also seized heavy and light weaponry besides capturing 25 army personnel and killing “a number of others.”
Separately, Afghan officials Saturday raised the death toll to at least 30 from an overnight truck bombing in Pul-e-Alam, the capital of eastern Logar province. The powerful blast late Friday injured more than 100 others. Almost all the victims were said to be Afghan civilians. The Taliban did not comment on the attack but Afghan authorities blamed the insurgents for plotting the carnage.
Critics fear the violence in Afghanistan will intensify unless the Taliban and the Afghan government resume their stalled peace talks and reach a power sharing deal before all foreign troops exit the country in the next few months.
The troops were to have departed Afghanistan by May 1 in line with an agreement Washington signed with the Taliban in February 2020 in exchange for a cessation of insurgent attacks on foreign forces and counterterrorism assurances.
However, U.S. President Joe Biden announced last month that the drawdown would start May 1 and conclude by September 11, the 20th anniversary of al-Qaida-plotted attacks on America. Biden cited logistical reasons for missing the deadline.
Taliban spokesman Mujahid said in a statement Saturday that the passing deadline meant “this violation in principle has opened the way for Taliban fighters to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying [foreign] forces.”
But Mujahid stressed in his statement that insurgent fighters were waiting on the decision of Taliban leadership “in light of the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country, and will then take action accordingly.”
US base attacked
The U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan Col. Sonny Leggett tweeted Saturday that the “Kandahar airfield received ineffective indirect fire this afternoon; no injury to personnel or damage to equipment.”
Kandahar Airfield received ineffective indirect fire this afternoon; no injury to personnel or damage to equipment.— USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett (@USFOR_A) May 1, 2021
Gen Miller has been clear about the Coalition's intent to protect the force. pic.twitter.com/lcxicIgHHP
“U.S. Forces conducted a precision strike this evening, destroying additional rockets aimed at the airfield,” Col. Sonny Leggett said in a subsequent tweet.
Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO militaries in the country, had warned last week that if his troops were attacked while carrying out the withdrawal they would respond to defend themselves.
“A return to violence would be one senseless and tragic. But make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afghan security forces,” Miller stressed.
The withdrawal of about 2,500 U.S. and 7,000 NATO troops from Afghanistan, once completed, would mark the end of what has been America’s longest war that cost Washington the lives of more than 2,400 military personnel and more than $2 trillion.
The nearly two decades-long Afghan war is estimated to have killed more than 241,000 people, including civilians, pro-government forces and opposition fighters, according to a new study by the U.S.-based Costs of War Project released last month.