13 Afghan soldiers slain in Taliban attack
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban militants stormed an Afghan army outpost on 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 Taliban want to show the international community that they are the power in Afghanistan,” said Jawed Kohistani, an Afghan political and military analyst. “Relations between the Afghan government and the international community are not so good, which is good for the Taliban.”
The attack on the outpost 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.
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 fighters 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 the militant fighters suffered no casualties. The militant movement frequently exaggerates the number of people killed and wounded in 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.
Afghanistan has about 100,000 international troops, including 66,000 from the United States. The United States' troop total is scheduled to drop to about 32,000 by early next year. The bulk of the reduction will occur once fighting presumably winds down in the winter.
Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, said the coalition had no involvement in Friday's fighting and has little presence in the area where the attack occurred.