26 Afghan sol­diers killed in Tale­ban at­tack in Kandahar

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

At least 26 Afghan sol­diers have been killed in a Tale­ban at­tack on a mil­i­tary base in south­ern Kandahar prov­ince, the de­fense min­istry said yes­ter­day, the lat­est blow to the coun­try’s strug­gling se­cu­rity forces. The Afghan air force said it car­ried out strikes back­ing up sol­diers on the ground dur­ing the hours-long at­tack on the base, which be­gan late Tues­day and ended in the early hours yes­ter­day.

At least 13 sol­diers were also wounded in the at­tack, MOD spokesman Gen­eral Dawlat Waziri said. The Afghan forces “bravely re­sisted”, he added, killing more than 80 in­sur­gents.

The camp was lo­cated in the re­mote Karzali area of Khakrez dis­trict, near the bor­der with restive Hel­mand, where the Tal­iban hold vast swathes of ter­ri­tory. “We con­ducted mul­ti­ple airstrikes killing dozens of them. Our he­li­copters trans­ported wounded sol­diers to hos­pi­tals in Kandahar,” said Gen­eral Raziq Shirzai, the pro­vin­cial air force com­man­der.

One se­nior army source said up to 12 sol­diers are still miss­ing fol­low­ing the as­sault, which he de­scribed as a “very heavy at­tack”. The in­sur­gents stole guns and ve­hi­cles as they re­treated, he said. Res­i­dents de­scribed hear­ing the airstrikes, and said the at­tack was launched by a 30-strong con­voy car­ry­ing “hun­dreds” of Tal­iban who as­saulted the base from mul­ti­ple di­rec­tions. The in­sur­gents claimed the at­tack via their Twit­ter ac­count. The resur­gent Tale­ban have been ramp­ing up their cam­paign against

be­lea­guered govern­ment forces, un­der­scor­ing ris­ing in­se­cu­rity in the war-torn coun­try dur­ing the sum­mer fight­ing sea­son when the warmer weather tends to spur an in­crease in mil­i­tant at­tacks.

‘Shock­ingly high’ ca­su­al­ties

Afghan se­cu­rity forces-be­set by a high death toll, de­ser­tions and nonex­is­tent “ghost sol­diers” on the pay­roll-have been strug­gling to beat back the in­sur­gents since US-led NATO troops ended their com­bat mis­sion in De­cem­ber 2014. Ca­su­al­ties among Afghan se­cu­rity forces soared by 35 per­cent in 2016, with 6,800 sol­diers and po­lice killed, ac­cord­ing to US watch­dog SIGAR.

The in­sur­gents have car­ried out more com­plex at­tacks against se­cu­rity forces in 2017, with SIGAR de­scrib­ing troop ca­su­al­ties in the early part of the year as “shock­ingly high”.

In April at least 135 sol­diers are be­lieved to have been killed on a base out­side the north­ern city of Mazar-iSharif, one of the dead­li­est ever Tal­iban at­tacks on a mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion. Some sources put the toll as high as 200. Mean­while in early March gun­men dis­guised as doc­tors stormed the Sar­dar Daud Khan hos­pi­tal-the coun­try’s largest mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal-in Kabul, killing dozens.

The Tale­ban have a heavy pres­ence in poppy-grow­ing Kandahar prov­ince and have launched re­peated at­tacks on se­cu­rity forces there, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple as­saults on mil­i­tary bases in May which killed dozens of sol­diers.

A re­cent UN re­port de­scribed Kandahar, which lies on the bor­der with Pak­istan, as also one of the most dan­ger­ous places in the coun­try for civil­ians. More than 70 vil­lagers were kid­napped by the Tal­iban over the week­end, of­fi­cials said. Seven were found dead and some 30 re­turned, while Afghan po­lice have launched a search and res­cue op­er­a­tion for the re­main­der of the miss­ing.

Afghan forces now con­trol 59.7 per­cent of the coun­try, up from 57.2 per­cent the pre­vi­ous quar­ter, ac­cord­ing to SIGAR. But the Tale­ban and other in­sur­gent groups have also seen their ar­eas of con­trol or in­flu­ence in­crease slightly from about 10 per­cent to 11.1 per­cent. — AFP

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