Taliban militants stormed an Afghan army outpost Friday, killing more than a dozen soldiers in an area that is a major infiltration route for insurgents crossing the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Taliban are stepping up their attacks this spring, analysts say, as they try to position themselves for power ahead of national elections and the planned withdrawal of most U.S. and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. The persistent violence has undermined confidence in the ability of President Hamid Karzai’s forces to take over the country’s security.
The attack began at dawn in Nari district of Kunar province, a volatile area that serves as a pathway for insurgents traveling to Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan. Hostilities have surged as weather improves, allowing easier movement through the remote area.
The militants started by firing 20 rockets at the outpost, which housed about 30 soldiers, provincial police chief Abdul Habib Sayedkhaili said. He said three Afghan soldiers and four Taliban were killed. But Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi told The Associated Press that 13 soldiers were killed in the fighting, which lasted about five hours.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said the insurgents captured the base, seizing ammunition and weapons. He said 15 Afghan soldiers died in the attack and that the militant fighters suffered no casualties. The Islamic militant movement frequently exaggerates the number of people killed and wounded by its attacks.
This year’s fighting season is being closely watched because Afghan forces have to operate with less support from the international military coalition, making it a test case of their ability to operate independently as U.S. and other foreign troops take on more of an advisory and training role.