Taliban kill ‘more than 100 people’ in attack on Afghan military base

The Taliban have launched a major attack on an Afghan military compound in central Maidan Wardak province, officials have said, with some putting the death toll at more than 100 people.

Monday’s incident at a campus of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) is the latest in a series of deadly attacks in recent months by the Taliban, which has seized control of about half of Afghanistan.

The Afghan authorities said the attack started on Monday morning, when a US-made armoured Humvee vehicle was driven into the compound and blown up. Gunmen also opened fire, before being killed by security forces.

Government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have given differing estimates of the death toll. One said it could be as high as 126 people and another said yet more were thought to have been wounded. “Eight special commandos are among the dead,” said a senior member of Kabul’s defence ministry. An official from the Afghan public health ministry said the total of killed and wounded could be about 140 people.

However, others offered a more conservative estimate. A senior NDS official in Kabul said at least 50 people were killed or wounded. Abdurrahman Mangal, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Maidan Wardak, said 12 people were killed and 12 were injured when the car bomb exploded near the Afghan special forces unit.

Defence ministry officials said the Taliban had used the Humvee, which had been captured from Afghan forces, as a bomb in order to breach the military fortifications.

Hussein Ali Baligh, a member of the local provincial council, said: “This morning, around 7am, a Humvee entered the NDS block in the city … about 150 NDS personnel were present at the time of the attack. The Humvee exploded right after entering the compound. The building has totally been collapsed.” At least two gunmen followed up the attack before being killed themselves.

He said the attack sparked concerns in the province over how a Humvee that had been in the hands of government forces could pass through checkpoints while packed with explosives. “It shows the weakness of our forces,” he said. “Our forces are brave, but their commanders have weaknesses.”

Sharif Hotak, a member of the provincial council in Maidan Wardak, said he had seen the bodies of 35 Afghan forces personnel in hospital. “Many more were killed. Several bodies were transported to Kabul city and many injured were transferred to hospitals in Kabul,” said Hotak, adding that “the government was hiding the accurate casualty figures to prevent a further dip in morale of the Afghan forces”.

Government officials in Maidan Wardak and Kabul declined to comment when asked if they were obscuring the death toll.

Two senior officials in the interior ministry said the exact casualty figure was not being disclosed to prevent unrest within the armed forces. “I have been told not to make the death toll figures public. It is frustrating to hide the facts,” said a senior interior ministry official in Kabul.

The office of the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, said the “enemies of the country” had carried out an attack against NDS personnel in Maidan Shahr, the provincial capital. “They killed and wounded a number of our beloved and honest sons,” he said.

He added: “Terrorist groups and their foreign supporters cannot weaken the high morale of our brave security and defence forces, because they have a great will to repress terrorists.” Ghani ordered the officials to investigate this attack.

In recent years, the Afghan government has stopped releasing detailed casualty figures. Last year, Ghani said 28,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers had been killed since 2015, breaking the longstanding suppression of casualty data.

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Islamist militant group, claimed it had killed 190 people.

Last week, Taliban fighters set off a car bomb outside a highly fortified compound in Kabul, killing at least five people and wounding more than 110 Afghans and expats.

Some analysts have suggested the recent increase in the intensity of Taliban attacks is a ploy by the group to gain the upper hand in ongoing talks with the US Afghan envoy.