Survivors of a deadly Taliban assault on an Afghan military base described leaping from windows to escape gunmen shooting soldiers as they prayed, as grieving families today collected coffins draped in the Afghan flag. Afghan officials have said more than 100 soldiers were killed or wounded in the assault on the base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif Friday, the latest and potentially deadliest in a string of attacks on military targets. Survivors who spoke to AFP in hospital said the gunmen were disguised as soldiers, used suicide vests and heavy machine guns, and shot unarmed soldiers at close range in the base’s mosque.
“We were having lunch when an army truck pulled over near us with four men who looked like our soldiers,” 22-year-old Zabiullah, who was wounded in the shoot-out, told AFP.
“Two of them with suicide vests jumped out of the car, entered the dining room and started shooting. The other two started shooting with a heavy machine gun on top of the truck,” he said.
Mohammad Qurban, a 19-year-old trainee officer who was wounded in his hand and waist, told AFP many victims were shot at close range.
“Their leader was telling them ‘aim for their heads’. They killed a lot of my friends, I jumped out of a window to survive,” he said.
An Afghan army source at the base told AFP the death toll could be as high as 150, and said most of the soldiers were young recruits there for training.
“They entered the compound using two army trucks with machine guns on top of them. They opened fire on everyone. And then they entered the mosque and dining room, killing everyone indiscriminately,” Mohammad Hussain, an army officer wounded in the attack, said.
The attack underscores rising insecurity as Afghanistan braces for an intense spring fighting season. Afghan security forces, beset by killings and desertions, have been struggling to beat back insurgents since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014. The defence ministry said today it has launched an investigation, and will provide more information when that is completed.
Families of the victims gathered outside the base today as soldiers carried out coffins in pairs, and handed them over to waiting relatives. Many vented their anger at security officials for failing to protect their loved ones.
“Three months ago I sent my son to join the army… today they are giving me his dead body,” the tearful, angry father of one soldier killed inside the base told AFP, declining to be named.