Taliban insurgents packed two Humvees stolen from Afghan security forces with explosives, detonated the vehicles outside an army base in the south and then stormed the base in an attack that left nearly all the unit’s 60 soldiers dead, injured or missing, officials said Thursday.
The death toll at the army camp in Kandahar province stood at 43, with nine wounded and six unaccounted for hours after the attack began about 3 a.m., said the Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri.
The assault didn’t end until U.S. forces carried out an airstrike that killed the 10 attackers, Waziri said. It was the latest U.S. strike in an escalating aerial war in Afghanistan that saw American warplanes fire more than 900 weapons in August and September, the greatest two-month total since 2012, according to U.S. Air Force statistics.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a text message to journalists, saying it had killed 60 people and seized equipment from the Chashmo base in Maiwand district.
The insurgent group frequently exaggerates its battlefield exploits. But the attack was unquestionably severe and came just two days after a similar Humvee bombing at a police training center in the eastern province of Paktia left at least 52 police and civilians dead, including the provincial police chief.
As Taliban militants target police and army installations across the country, they are believed to have stolen dozens of the heavy-duty vehicles from Afghan security forces, many during the brief period in 2015 when they seized control of the northern city of Kunduz. In the Paktia attack, the militants were also wearing the uniforms of Afghan security forces.
“During the fall of Kunduz and some other areas in the country, the Taliban could have seized some Humvees,” Waziri said.
The vehicle-borne explosive device has been one of the deadliest weapons in the Afghan war, but the armored vehicles pack a much larger payload than the Toyota sedans that until now have been the Taliban’s car bomb of choice.
Officials in Paktia had reportedly warned that stolen Humvees were seen on the roads in the province, but said military commanders have not taken steps to capture or destroy the vehicles.
The weapon presents a new challenge to the beleaguered security forces, already reeling from one of their deadliest months. In September, nearly 800 soldiers and police officers were killed, according to the Tolo news website.
In response to the attacks this week, Afghan security forces said Thursday that they had launched air and ground operations in 17 provinces that had killed 102 insurgents.
Special correspondent Faizy reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
Follow @SBengali for more news from South Asia
7:02 a.m.: This article was updated with confirmation of a U.S. airstrike.
4:30 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.
This article was originally published at 1:07 a.m.