Turkey condemns Afghan base attack, as death toll rises to 140
ANKARA/KABULTurkey has condemned an attack on a military base in northern Afghanistan that claimed the lives of dozens of soldiers and injured many others.
As many as 140 Afghan soldiers were killed on April 21 by Taliban attackers apparently disguised in military uniforms in what would be the deadliest attack ever on an Afghan military base, Afghan officials said.
“We have learned with sorrow that a terror attack has taken place at the 209 corps headquarters of the Afghan National Army in Mazar-e Sharif city of Afghanistan,” Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on April 22.
“We strongly condemn this heinous terror attack,” it said, adding Turkey would continue to remain in solidarity with Afghanistan in its fight against terrorism.
Afghan Defense Ministry said the toll was "over 100" Afghan soldiers killed and wounded.
One official in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the attack occurred, said on April 22 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 exact casualty figures.
The attack starkly highlighted the struggle by the Afghan government and its international backers to defeat a potent Taliban insurgency that has gripped Afghanistan for more than a decade.
A U.S. official in Washington on April 21 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, made their way onto the base and opened fire on mostly unarmed soldiers eating a meal and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers, according to officials.
The attackers used rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, and several detonated suicide vests packed with explosive, they said.
Witnesses described a scene of confusion as soldiers were uncertain who the attackers were.
"It was a chaotic scene and I didn't know what to do," said one army officer wounded in the attack. "There was gunfire and explosions everywhere."
The base is the headquarters for the Afghan National Army's 209th Corps, responsible for much of northern Afghanistan, including Kunduz province where there has been heavy fighting.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on April 22 the attack was retribution for the recent killing of several senior Taliban leaders in northern Afghanistan.
Four of the attackers were Taliban sympathisers who had infiltrated the army and served for some time, Mujahid said.
That claim has not been confirmed by the Afghan army.
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 attack on the 209th Corps today shows the barbaric nature of the Taliban," the commander of coalition forces, U.S. General John Nicholson, said in a statement on April 21.