‘Aim for their heads’: Soldiers recount Taliban attack on Mazar-i-Sharif base
At least 10 Taliban attackers had breached the military headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif, eventually killing more than 140 soldiers.world Updated: Apr 23, 2017 13:25 IST
Survivors of a deadly Taliban assault on an Afghan military base described leaping from windows to escape gunmen shooting soldiers when they prayed, as grieving families on Saturday collected coffins draped in the Afghan flag.
Afghan officials have said more than 140 soldiers were killed or wounded in the assault on the base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday, the latest and potentially deadliest in a string of attacks on military targets.
President Ashraf Ghani declared a national day of mourning. After arriving to visit the base, Ghani ordered that flags be flown at half mast on Sunday in memory of the troops who died. In a statement online, he condemned the attack as “cowardly” and the work of “infidels”.
Survivors in hospital said the gunmen were disguised as soldiers, used suicide vests and heavy machine guns, and shot unarmed soldiers at close range in the base’s mosque.
“We were having lunch when an army truck pulled over near us with four men who looked like our soldiers,” 22-year-old Zabiullah, who was wounded in the shootout, said.
“Two of them with suicide vests jumped out of the car, entered the dining room and started shooting. The other two started shooting with a heavy machine gun on top of the truck,” he said.
Mohammad Qurban, a 19-year-old trainee officer who was wounded in his hand and waist, said many victims were shot at close range.
‘They killed my friends’
“Their leader was telling them ‘aim for their heads’. They killed a lot of my friends, I jumped out of a window to survive,” he said.
An Afghan army source at the base said the death toll could be as high as 150, and said most of the soldiers were young recruits there for training.
Taliban fighters used rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, and several detonated suicide vests packed with explosives, officials said.
“They entered the compound using two army trucks with machine guns on top of them. They opened fire on everyone. And then they entered the mosque and dining room, killing everyone indiscriminately,” Mohammad Hussain, an army officer wounded in the attack, said.
The attack underscores rising insecurity as Afghanistan braces for an intense spring fighting season.
Afghan security forces, beset by killings and desertions, have been struggling to beat back insurgents since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.
The defence ministry said on Saturday it has launched an investigation, and will provide more information when that is completed.
Families of the victims gathered outside the base Saturday as soldiers carried out coffins in pairs, and handed them over to waiting relatives.
Many vented their anger at security officials for failing to protect their loved ones.
“Three months ago I sent my son to join the army... today they are giving me his dead body,” the tearful, angry father of one soldier killed inside the base, declining to be named.