January 20, 2019

Afghan defence chiefs resign over deadly Taliban attack

mkAfghanistan’s defence minister and army chief of staff have resigned in the wake of a Taliban attack that left scores of soldiers dead, the presidential palace says.

The attack happened on Friday at an army base near Mazar-e Sharif.

Insurgents targeted troops leaving Friday prayers at the base’s mosque and in a canteen, the army said.

It was the Taliban’s deadliest attack on the armed forces since US-led forces drove them from power in 2001.

The resignations coincided with the arrival of US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis on an unannounced visit to Kabul. He is due to meet both Afghan officials and US troops.How did the Mazar-e Sharif attack unfold?
A group of about 10 Taliban insurgents dressed in Afghan military uniforms and driving military vehicles made their way into the base in the northern city and opened fire.
Many of those who died were young recruits training at the base. Witnesses described chaotic scenes as the young soldiers struggled to work out who was friend or foe.
The attackers were armed with guns, grenades and some were wearing suicide vests, reports said. The defence ministry said the attackers were all killed.
It is not clear exactly how many soldiers died. The Afghan defence ministry has not released firm casualty figures, only saying more than 100 people were killed or injured.
Other officials have told BBC that at least 136 people died – 124 coffins had been sent out to different parts of the country and 12 soldiers had not yet been identified, they said.
But some sources say the toll was even higher. One eyewitness told the BBC he counted 165 bodies.

The bodies have all been removed but the scale of the carnage still is horrifically apparent. Buildings are pock-marked with bullet holes and there are sprays of blood on the walls and floors.

A few workers are cleaning up. They wear face masks against the smell and I notice that among the rubble they are shovelling are shoes and pieces of fabric.

A team of forensics officers from America and Germany cluster around one of the two pick-up trucks the Taliban fighters used to enter the base. They are collecting blood and other samples.

The floor of the vehicle is littered with spent cartridges, the windscreen is shattered and there is also evidence of the deadly subterfuge the Taliban team used to enter the base.

They were wearing Afghan army uniforms and one was pretending to be injured with a bloodied bandage on his head and a drip in his arm. The tube from that drip is still on the back seat.

The commander of the base, General Katawazai, said the long battle to regain control of the base was the most difficult he had ever experienced. He had to make sure he didn’t fire on his own troops.

But, when I asked what impact it had had on morale he surprised me. He said the attack had actually raised morale: “Now my men are even more determined to fight the Taliban,” he said.

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