The Taliban launched a suicide assault on an Afghan Army corps headquarters in the northern province of Balkh today and attacked the mosque on the base.
Taliban fighters “managed to penetrate multiple layers of protection at the Afghan National Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps Headquarters” near the provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif, TOLONews reported. The Taliban fighters reportedly entered the base in two Ranger pickup trucks, which are used by Afghan security forces and supplied by the US. The Taliban fighters were wearing Afghan military uniforms, according to Pajhwok Afghan News.
The Taliban assault team is said to have attacked the mosque on the base. At least 10 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting. It is unclear if the casualties include Taliban fighters.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the attack on his Twitter feed, and said the Taliban opened the assault by using “suicide attacks,” which allowed “a large number of Mujahideen” to penetrate the base. According to Mujahid, more than 100 Afghan security personnel were killed in the fighting, including a battalion commander known as Shirin Agha and Colonel Abdul, “the Chief of Staff Corps.” His account could not be verified, and the Taliban routinely inflate the number of casualties caused by their operations.
In a series of tweets, Mujahid said that Afghan forces have been demoralized by the suicide assault in Balkh, and Taliban forces are entrenched in the western province and capable of conducting offensive operations. In a statement released by the Taliban at the end of March, the group claimed it fully controls one of Balkh’s districts and contests nine others. While the Taliban’s claims of control of districts in Afghanistan are difficult to confirm, they largely match with an analysis by FDD’s Long War Journal.
The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using one or more suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic frequently used by the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda and its branches. It is also used by allied groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Shabaab, and by the rival Islamic State. Suicide assaults are commonly executed by jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Taliban, allied jihadists operate in Balkh
The Taliban has launched several major attacks against high-profile targets in Balkh in the past. Most recently, in November 2016, a Taliban suicide assault team killed six civilians and wounded more than 100 in an attack on the German consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Additionally, In early January 2016, jihadists assaulted the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif and held off security forces for a day before being killed. No group has claimed credit for the attack, but one of the fighters wrote in Urdu “Afzal Guru is avenged” on the wall in his own blood before being killed, according to The Indian Express. Afzal Guru was a Jaish-e-Mohammed operative who was executed for his involvement in the Dec. 2001 assault on India’s Parliament in New Delhi. That attack was executed by Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
To complicate matters further, Asmatullah Muawiya, a Pakistani terrorist who serves as one of several al Qaeda “company” commanders as well as the leader of the Taliban in Punjab province, had threatened to avenge Guru’s execution.
Whichever group attacked the Indian consulate in January 2016 would need the help of the local Taliban to carry it out.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.