KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban stormed a military base in the south of the country killing at least 43 troops on Thursday, the Defence Ministry said, with the militants saying they had killed 60.
Of 60 soldiers manning the base in the province of Kandahar, 43 were killed, nine were wounded and six were missing after the militants attacked in the middle of the night, the ministry said in a statement.
At least 10 Taliban were also reported killed in the battle, which occurred in Maiwand, a district that neighbours volatile Helmand province.
The attack will underscore worries about the ability of the Afghan security forces to deal with a relentless insurgency which they have struggled to contain since most foreign troops left at the end of 2014.
U.S. President Donald Trump committed to an open-ended military mission in Afghanistan in August despite criticism that it is no closer to peace despite billions of dollars in aid and nearly 16 years of U.S. and allied operations.
The attack began when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden American-made Humvee armoured vehicle, likely captured from Afghan security forces, into the gate of the base, an army official told Reuters.
That began an hours-long assault by Taliban gunmen, which was interrupted by a second Humvee breaking all the way into the base and detonating inside, he said.
The base itself was left in ruins, officials said.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the militant group, said the attack began with a suicide car bomb followed by an assault that overran the base.
The militants had killed at least 60 Afghan soldiers and wounded many, he said.
The Taliban have been waging an insurgency for a decade and a half in an attempt to overthrow the Western-backed government in Kabul and re-establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
The United States and its allies maintain thousands of troops across Afghanistan, including in Kandahar, to advise and assist Afghan forces as well as conduct strikes against suspected militants.
When asked whether U.S. forces provided any support for the besieged Afghan base, a spokesman at the coalition military command in Kabul said: “We can confirm that U.S. forces conducted an air strike during an operation in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province, October 19, under counter-terror authorities.”
On Tuesday, at least 69 people were killed and scores wounded in Taliban attacks on government compounds in Paktia and Ghazni provinces.
Among the dead in those attacks were at least 36 members of the Afghan security forces, including a senior provincial police commander.
Militants were once again attacking a police base in Ghazni on Thursday, but officials did not have information on casualties.
Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel