An official told TOLOnews on Saturday morning that at least 135 soldiers were killed in Friday afternoon’s attack on the Afghan National Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps Headquarters in Balkh province.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity as government has not officially released figures, said at least 60 soldiers were also wounded in the attack. He said some were in critical condition.
However, the ministry of defense and government last confirmed the actual death toll at 11 but the MoD issued a statement Saturday morning that said "about 100 have been killed and wounded."
Reuters however reported that at least 140 soldiers had been killed. They quoted a senior local official, who had also spoken on condition of anonymity. Reuters also reported that other officials said the toll was likely to be even higher.
Soon after the four-hour long siege ended, government said 11 had been killed but a spokesman for the U.S’s Central Command Colonel John Thomas, told Reuters “we’re talking probably more than 50 casualties.”
"There is a mosque and a dining facility on the base that seemed to, at this point from our reports, be the subject of a significant attack from enemy forces," he was quoted as saying.
The attack happened at about 1.30pm on Friday at a mosque on the base. Insurgents in army vehicles and reportedly wearing military uniforms penetrated multiple layers of security before launching their attack.
Injured soldiers being treated at the Mazar-e-Sharif hospital said that security at the base was extremely strict and that soldiers were never allowed onto base without ID cards.
One wounded soldier, Hussain, said he felt the insurgents must have had inside help in order to get onto the base.
The head of the Mazar-e-Sharif health department, Mirwais Rabay, said eight patients in critical condition had been admitted to his hospital. Six of them have improved but two are still in a critical condition, he said.
A source told TOLOnews that there is a hospital on the base and that most of the wounded soldiers are being treated there.
Dawlat Waziri, a ministry of defense spokesman, confirmed insurgents wearing army uniforms had stormed the military compound in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province during Friday prayers.
The spokesman for the Afghan National Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps Headquarters said six insurgents carried out the attack but other officials put the number at 10.
The attack happened just two days after Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi visited the base during a trip to Balkh.
However, Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor said the same day he is concerned about the spread of insecurity in the northern provinces and that it would increase if security forces do not take an offensive stance against militants.
“Do not let insurgents infiltrate, strengthen and create problems for us. If we let them collect (illegal) taxes, cultivate poppies and conduct smuggling, they will receive money and will further equip [their fighters]. Then they will manage more wars,” Noor said.
Friday’s attack meanwhile is the second serious attack on a military installation in recent months.
Six weeks ago, insurgents attacked the Sardar Mohammad Daoud military hospital in Kabul killing at least 50 people.
This attack drew widespread condemnation at the time, with the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) severely criticizing government over its failure to prevent such an attack, saying such attacks on highly-secured compounds "shame the government".
About the Base
Afghan National Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps Headquarters in Balkh province is one of the largest army corps in the country and covers the northern provinces.
The camp is situated about 13kms outside of Mazar-e-Sharif city and is in the Dehdadi district in the western part of the province.
A total of 20,000 army personnel fall under this corp but are stationed through the northern parts of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.
According to the Taliban's spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid four of the attackers were soldiers and had inside knowledge of the base.