Deadly Taliban attack targets elite unit in Afghanistan

The 13 soldiers killed were members of Afghanistan's Third Battalion, one of only a small number of Afghan Army units rated as fully self-sufficient by the US military.

Ahmad Jamshid/AP
Pigeons surround Afghan men kneeling down for Friday payers near the Pul-e Khishti mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday. Taliban militants attacked an Afghan army outpost near the eastern border with Pakistan on Friday, killing over a dozen Afghan National Army soldiers, the Defense Ministry said.

 A Taliban attack killed 13 Afghan soldiers Friday at a remote Army outpost in the eastern province of Kunar, underscoring the rising challenges that face the country’s Army as foreign troops withdraw over the coming year.

Some 200 Taliban fighters ambushed the soldiers around 5 a.m., attacking the outpost before setting it on fire, The New York Times reports. Every soldier present at the base was killed, making the attack was the deadliest in the region in six months, according to local officials.

The soldiers killed were members of the Army’s Third Battalion, one of only a small number of Afghan Army units rated as fully self-sufficient by the US military. They patrolled a mountainous district on the Pakistani border that serves as a major gateway for insurgents from that country. 

The attack is part of a rising tide of violence in the region as winter thaws, easing passage across the mountainous terrain.

“We know the enemy’s going to come out hard this summer, so the [casualty] numbers are going to go up,” Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the NATO-led military coalition, told the Times.

There has been a steady uptick in the number of Afghan soldiers and police officers killed in recent years as they have grown their ranks and gradually assumed greater responsibility from NATO forces.

In 2012, the Afghan government estimated that some 1,000 soldiers and 1,400 police officers were killed. By the end of the year, a military spokesman estimated that 110 soldiers and 200 policemen were dying every month, the Times reports.

By contrast, 32 NATO soldiers have been killed in the first three months of 2013, according to the monitoring group casualties. 

Currently about 100,000 international troops are based in Afghanistan, including 66,000 from the United States. That number is expected to drop by half by early 2014, with most of the remaining forces moving back into support and training positions. 

Within the next few months, Afghan forces are expected to be responsible for security across the entire country.

A contingent of Australian lawmakers visiting Afghanistan this week praised the “enormous progress” that Afghan security forces had made toward that goal. 

''The Afghan National Security Forces are bigger than the insurgency, they are significantly more capable, they are better war fighters and they are more well resourced,'' said Member of Parliament Wyatt Roy in an interview with an Australian news site.

But the unstable border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains a major source of concern for Afghan security. As the Lebanese newspaper Naharnet reports:

The border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a key battleground in the fight against the militants, many of whom use safe havens inside Pakistan to launch attacks against Afghan soldiers and the U.S.-led military coalition.

For years, leaders in Kabul and Islamabad have traded accusations of blame over the Islamist extremists who pose a threat to security in both countries and criss-cross the porous border with impunity….

[R]ebel bases in Pakistan infuriate Afghan President Hamid Karzai and remain a major obstacle to peace as U.S.-led troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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