As many 140 Afghan soldiers were killed on Friday by Taliban attackers apparently disguised in military uniforms in what would be the deadliest attack ever on an Afghan military base, officials said.
One official in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the attack occurred, said on Saturday at least 140 soldiers were killed and many others wounded. Other officials said the toll was likely to be even higher.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the government has yet to release official casualty figures.
A US official in Washington on Friday had put the toll at more than 50 killed and wounded.
As many as 10 Taliban fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniforms and driving military vehicles, talked their way onto the base and opened fire on soldiers eating dinner and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers, according to officials. The attackers used rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, they said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Saturday the attack was retribution for the recent killing of several senior Taliban leaders in northern Afghanistan.
The NATO-led military coalition deploys advisers to the base where the attack occurred to train and assist the Afghan forces but coalition officials said no international troops were involved in the attack.
The Western-backed Afghan government is locked in a prolonged war with Taliban insurgents and other militant groups.
Military sites targeted
Several military helicopters hovered over the base during Friday’s attack and ambulances later took away the bodies of the victims, an AFP correspondent said.
The facility in Balkh province is home to the Afghan army’s 209th Corps.
The last major attack against a military site was in early March when gunmen disguised as doctors stormed the Sardar Daud Khan hospital – the country’s largest military hospital – in Kabul, killing dozens.
Afghan officials put the death toll at 50, but security sources and survivors told AFP more than 100 were killed in the brazen and savage attack.
The Islamic State group claimed it was behind the operation – hours after the more powerful Taliban denied responsibility for the raid.
That assault came a week after 16 people were killed in simultaneous Taliban suicide assaults on two security compounds in the capital.
More than a third of Afghanistan is outside government control and many regions are fiercely contested by various insurgent groups, as Kabul’s repeated bids to launch peace negotiations with the Taliban have failed.
Earlier this month the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on Islamic State group hideouts in eastern Afghanistan, killing nearly a hundred militants.
The attack triggered global shockwaves, with some condemning the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat as the resurgent Taliban.