Taliban overrun Afghan army base, kill 17 troops

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban overran a remote base in northern Afghanistan, killing 17 soldiers, as Afghan forces battled the insurgents for the fifth straight day in the eastern city of Ghazni on Tuesday, trying to flush them out of the city’s outskirts, officials said.

The Taliban claimed that dozens of forces at the northern base, known as camp Chinaya, had surrendered while others were captured. At least 19 soldiers were wounded in the assault, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed.

The Taliban had besieged the base, which housed about 140 Afghan troops, for three days before the attack late Monday, said the local provincial council chief, Mohammad Tahir Rahmani.

Rahmani said the base fell to the Taliban after the soldiers ran out of ammunition, food and water. He said 43 troops were killed and wounded in the attack but did not give a breakdown.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying 57 Afghan soldiers had surrendered to the Taliban while 17 others were captured. He said eight military Humvees were also seized.

In Ghazni, meanwhile, Afghan forces battled the Taliban in the outskirts of the city five days after the insurgents launched a massive attack on it. Hundreds of people have fled the fighting in the city, which has so far killed about 100 members of the Afghan security forces and at least 20 civilians.

Nasart Rahimi, a deputy spokesman at the Interior Ministry, said security forces were combing Ghazni on Tuesday, searching for any remaining Taliban fighters. Military helicopters were supporting the ground operations, said Abdul Karim Arghandiwal, an army media officer in southeastern Afghanistan.

On Friday, the insurgents overwhelmed defenses and pushed deep into the city, which is just 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital, Kabul. The United States has carried out airstrikes and sent military advisers to aid Afghan forces in the city of 270,000 people.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, denied the insurgents had been driven from Ghazni and said sporadic gunbattles were still ongoing. The Taliban destroyed a telecommunications tower on Ghazni’s outskirts during the initial assault, cutting off landline and cellphone links to the city.

The fighting has brought civilian life to a standstill, with most residents sheltering indoors.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says around 20 percent of the city’s population depends on the municipal water system, which has been down since the start of the fighting. It said it had organized an effort to truck in water, serving around 18,000 people.

In recent months, the Taliban have seized several districts across Afghanistan, staging near-daily attacks on security forces, but they have been unable to capture and hold urban areas.

The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but have since then repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces as they struggle to combat the resurgent Taliban.