KABUL: They were among Afghanistan’s best and most experienced fighters — elite Afghan special forces who had survived years of deadly combat on battlefields around the country.
But that was no protection on Monday when a Taliban attack on their military compound, 30 km west of Kabul, left more than 50 soldiers dead, with some estimates putting the death toll as high as 120.
The attack on the National Directorate of Security (NDS) complex began early in the morning when a US-made armored Humvee vehicle was driven inside the base and blown up. Gunmen then opened fire before being killed by security forces.
Dozens of Afghan troops died in the blast as they huddled around stoves in a dining hall, sharing breakfast with new recruits.
The assault — one of the bloodiest in the 17-year history of the conflict — is the latest in a series of deadly attacks by the Taliban, which has seized control of large areas of Afghanistan.
Afghan officials on Tuesday declined to comment on the attack, but their dismay, anger and frustration were visible when they discussed the strike in Maidan Wardak province, a major gateway to the capital.
The NDS issued a statement on Tuesday saying 36 soldiers had died and 58 were wounded in the attack.
“I do not know how many have been killed, all I can say is the attack is among the worst seen in years and the casualties were the highest inflicted on special forces in a single incident,” a security source told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
The troops were among the best trained by US, well-equipped and highly paid compared with other national forces. Some had taken part in dozens of raids in rugged areas of Maidan Wardak, a region that is home to a large number of militants, two officials said. As the soldiers were having breakfast in the heavily fortified compound, a man wearing a special forces uniform drove an armored Humvee up to the complex, managed to get past the security gate and set off explosives hidden in the vehicle outside the entrance to one of the buildings.
Humvees are provided by the US military to Afghan forces, and the Taliban has used them in past attacks on Afghan bases after seizing the vehicles in raids around the country.
“The explosion was powerful and shattered windows residential houses well away from the site of the attack,” Khalid Ahmad, a resident, told local TV. Many troops were killed when a roof collapsed in the blast, Mohammad Sardar, a member of the provincial council, told Arab News by phone.
Minutes later, four Taliban gunmen entered the compound in a car and fought for several hours with survivors of the blast, residents said.
More than 160 soldiers were believed to have been present at the base during the attack.
Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a retired general and security analyst, said the attack was the result of “serious negligence” and could have been carried out with inside help.
“The commander of the base should have identified which areas of the compound were vulnerable and taken the decision to (protect) them,” Yarmand told Arab News.
“The attacker managed to get the armored car laden with explosives past the main gate and blow it up at the entrance to a building. An investigation is needed to find out if there was any inside help and how he managed to get inside the base,” he said.