A Taliban attack on a mosque and dining facility at Camp Shaheen outside Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan on Friday claimed the lives of more than 140 Afghan soldiers, with a final death toll still being tallied, prompting Afghanistan’s defense minister and army chief of staff to resign their positions.
“2017 is going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood, and will continue to stand, shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism,” American Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, said upon his arrival in Afghanistan on Monday. The storied Marine general turned Defense Secretary is in the country as a part of ongoing efforts to craft a new Afghan strategy against the likes of the Taliban.
Mattis told journalists that he was “under no illusions” about the problems facing the country, which may include an influx of weaponry reaching Taliban hands from American political opponent, Russia. Even General John Nicholson, the head of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan who recently testified before Congress that more troops were needed to end the stalemate against terrorists in Afghanistan, said he was “not refuting” reports that Russia was providing support, including weapons, to the Taliban.
A senior defense official who spoke under the condition of anonymity told reporters on Monday that intelligence indeed shows that Russia has been providing money and automatic weapons to the Taliban. Russia has denied any such wrong doing, but claims they maintain open lines of communication with Taliban leaders in order to continue to push for peace talks. They have also been openly critical of the United States and its ongoing efforts in the country.
Defence Minister Abdullah Habibi and Army Chief of Staff Qadam Shah Shahim “stepped down with immediate effect” following the Friday attack, which stands as the single deadliest Taliban attack in the long Afghan war against them. The attack reportedly involved 10 jihadists approaching the base disguised as Afghan soldiers transporting their wounded. They then detonated explosives once surrounded by hundreds of unarmed troops as they emerged from prayers. The attack continued as they opened fire on new recruits in the area attending training.
Intelligence reports indicate that the Haqqani network, a wing of the Taliban based in Pakistan, was behind the attack. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack within minutes however, but U.S. military officials believe doing so was intended to divert attention away from the Haqqani network, as implicating them would place increased attention on the other side of the Pakistani border.
Defense officials claim the attack likely took months to plan, indicating that the ten terrorists that entered the base may have received help from troops inside the Afghan military. That would explain their awareness that soldiers would attend prayers without their weapons, making it the perfect time to strike.
U.S. officials likely don’t see the resignations as a surprise, as some called for them in March when militants entered the Afghan Army’s primary hospital and killed at least fifty people in a siege that was ultimately claimed by another terrorist organization operating in the region, ISIS.
There are currently approximately 8,400 American troops operating in Afghanistan, with 6,000 more from NATO and other allied countries, however, General John Nicholson has repeatedly claimed the coalition force in Afghanistan is facing “a shortfall of a few thousand troops” to break the “stalemate” with terrorist forces, particularly in roles like advisors for individual military units.
“The numbers of the Afghan security forces are decreasing, while both casualties and the number of districts under insurgent control or influence are increasing,” he said in a report to Congress.
“In recent years, at a period of our maximum effort, we didn’t have as reliable a partner in the Afghan government as we would’ve liked,” National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said. “Now we have a much more reliable Afghan partner and we have reduced considerably the degree and scope of our effort.”
You can read General Nicholson’s statement on the attack below:
The attack on the 209th Corps today shows the barbaric nature of the Taliban. They killed soldiers at prayer in a mosque and others in a dining facility.
All of us at the NATO Resolute Support Mission condemn such murderous and reprehensible actions.
The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and the people of Afghanistan have my personal assurance that we will continue to stand with them. We support our valuable friends and partners in the fight against terrorism.
I want to praise the Afghan Commandos who brought today’s atrocity to an end. Our thoughts are with the brave soldiers martyred today and their comrades, families and friends.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press