Taliban fighters overran a northern Afghan army base, officials said Tuesday, killing at least 17 soldiers with dozens feared captured in a stinging blow to security forces already struggling to push insurgents from eastern Ghazni.
The fall of the base in Ghormach district of volatile Faryab province came with security forces – who have struggled to hold back the Taliban since Nato combat troops pulled out in 2014 – already stretched by the days of fighting in Ghazni, a strategic provincial capital two hours from Kabul.
Militants gained control of the base after days of heavy fighting, according to army spokesman for northern Afghanistan, Mohammad Hanif Rezaee.
He said around 100 soldiers were on the base when it was first attacked Sunday.
"It is a tragedy that the base fell to the enemy. Some soldiers were killed, some captured and some fled to nearby hills," Mr Rezaee told AFP.
At least 17 were killed in the attack, according to defence ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed, while a local MP said Taliban fighters captured another 40 in the base, known as Chenaya.
"Preparations are underway to launch an operation to recapture the base," said the ministry’s spokesman.
Tahir Rehmani – head of Faryab’s provincial council – said the base fell after the soldiers begged for reinforcements and air support from Kabul but were ultimately ignored.
"They were too busy with Ghazni," said Mr Rehmani.
Ghazni, further east and which the Taliban first assaulted late Thursday, remains in government hands, officials have said.
But the insurgents appeared entrenched there Tuesday, according to residents who said they were burning buildings, killing civilians and firing on security forces conducting a clearing operation.
Afghan security forces, beset by killings, desertions and under intense pressure, have been struggling to beat back insurgents since US-led Nato troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.
The attack on Ghazni is the largest tactical onslaught by the Taliban since an unprecedented truce in June brought fighting between security forces and the Taliban to a brief stop, providing battle-worn Afghans some welcome relief.
Analysts have said the insurgents may also be seeking to demonstrate strength as they come under increasing pressure since the ceasefire to join peace talks.
The assault in Ghazni and the fall of the base also illustrate the challenges facing Afghan forces as they battle insurgents across the country, said analyst Abdul Hamid Sofof.
"The Taliban know this and they make Afghan forces fight on several fronts, making them run thin and vulnerable to their mobile attacks," said Mr Sofof.