Dozens of Afghan soldiers killed in Taliban attack

ISLAMABAD: At least 25 Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack carried out by Taliban at a pre-dawn assault Friday in a Taliban attack on a joint US-Afghan base in southwestern Afghanistan, officials said Friday, as fighting continued during a pause in peace talks between the insurgents and American negotiators.

Details of the heavy toll from the hours-long assault on Shorab military base — one of the largest military installations in the country — followed earlier claims by local and US officials that Afghan forces had successfully repelled the attack, killing four militants.

The pre-dawn assault, claimed by the Taliban, saw militants enter the base in Helmand province and engage in firefights with Afghan forces.

Hours later, Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed, a spokesman with the Ministry of Defence, said: “The operation is over — 23 security forces killed, 15 injured and 20 insurgents killed.”

Omar Zwak — a spokesman for the provincial governor — also confirmed the toll, saying the Taliban deployed at least seven suicide bombers who were killed during the fighting.

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A US official told AFP that no Americans were killed or wounded in the attack.

The Taliban control or contest more than half of Helmand’s districts and regularly deliver sharp blows to Afghan forces, who have been struggling to hold off insurgents across the war-torn country since taking the lead from NATO forces in late 2014.

The assault on Shorab comes as US and Taliban negotiators in Doha have temporarily halted peace talks, which are set to restart over the weekend.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad earlier this week called the latest meetings in the months-long diplomatic push “productive”, saying the two sides “will take the next two days for internal deliberations, with plans to regroup on Saturday”.

The Afghan government and civil society groups have voiced repeated concerns that an abrupt US withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war or a return to hardline Taliban rule.