The Taliban detonated a car bomb inside a National Directorate of Security (NDS) Afghan Army base before trying to launch a coordinated ground attack. At least 43 people were killed and 54 wounded according to NDS officials, but the number is thought to be much higher.
This deadly attack in Wardak province took place just hours before the Taliban was to sit down in peace talks with representatives of the United States in Qatar. The timing is not considered a coincidence as a second Taliban attack, also using a car bomb was thwarted by NDS forces according to an official statement.
The Taliban somehow got control of an American manufactured up-armored Humvee that they packed with explosives. Then, they rammed the gate, wounding the gate guards as they entered the military compound. They detonated the explosives which caused the collapse of one building at Maidan Shahr, about 30km (19 miles) south-west of Kabul.
A few gunmen who followed in a white Toyota pickup then stormed the compound where they then opened fire inside the base before being killed by government forces wounded in the initial assault at the gate. There was no long or prolonged gunfire, it was over very quickly according to witnesses.
Initial reports from sources inside the Afghan government put the death toll much higher. According to an early report from Reuters:
“We have information that 126 people have been killed in the explosion inside the military training center, eight special commandoes are among the dead,” said a senior official in the defense ministry in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Taliban claim that they killed 190 people, which is typical for their attacks as they always overestimate their operational casualty numbers inflicted on government forces. Most of the dead were killed when the roof of one building collapsed in the blast from the car bomb.
Regardless, this is the most serious attack against Afghan government forces in months, just as Taliban representatives were meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, in Qatar. The Taliban now controls roughly half of the countryside and is looking to negotiate, the “invasion of Afghanistan” with the U.S. from a position of strength. They refuse to negotiate with the government since they feel that they are no more than U.S. puppets.
“Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending the invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha,” was released in a Taliban statement.
The Afghan military base in Maidan Wardak is a training center run by the NDS, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency. These troops have much better training and are much better led than the Afghan police forces which have been getting decimated in Taliban attacks recently. A recent government statement has stated that the total of police and military deaths against the Taliban since 2015 is 28,000, or about 20 per day. This latest assault came just a day after a suicide bomber from the Taliban targeted the convoy of the governor of Logar province.
Seven of the governor’s bodyguards were killed in the blast, but the governor escaped uninjured. Sharif Hotak, a local Afghan official told the media that he saw the bodies of at least 35 Afghan security forces in the hospital and said many more who had also been killed in the blast.
“The government was hiding the accurate casualty figures to prevent a further dip in the morale of the Afghan forces,” he said. “Several bodies were transported to Kabul city and many injured were transferred to hospitals in Kabul. The explosion was very powerful. The whole building has collapsed.”
The NDS has long been mentored by CIA and has been conducting training on its own to local militias in a “train the trainer” scenario. It isn’t believed, however, that any U.S. CIA employees were at the facility.
This comes at a critical juncture where President Trump had ordered back in December to begin plans to withdraw all 7000 American troops remaining in Afghanistan. Coupled with the U.S. ordered withdrawal in Syria, the American bargaining position has been considerably weakened.