HELMAND/KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) – At least nine Taliban insurgents, including three suicide bombers were killed by the Afghan forces in a bid to prevent a complex attack by the hardline Islamist group on a military base in southern Afghanistan, officials said on Friday.
The 215 Maiwand Army Corps situated in Helmand province came under attack in the early hours of Friday , said a senior security official in Kabul, adding the attack was Taliban’s third attempt to overrun the strategic military installation in the past 48 hours.
“Afghan soldiers of 215 Maiwand Corps stopped the Taliban from gaining control of the military compound, we have reports that six Afghan soldiers were killed during the clashes,” said a senior Afghan security official on condition of anonymity.
Two other security officials confirmed that members belonging to foreign forces present at the base were safe as the Taliban could not breach walls of their compound.
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support, and a separate U.S. counter-terrorism mission largely directed against militant groups like Islamic State and al Qaeda.
But U.S. President Donald Trump told Congress last month he intended to reduce U.S. forces from Afghanistan as negotiators make progress in talks with Taliban insurgents, saying: “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
In addition, some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries in Resolute Support provide training and support for Afghan forces.
Helmand is seen as a strategic target for the militants as large stretches of the province provides a source of much of the world’s illegal opium supply.
During more than a decade of international intervention, Helmand was the deadliest province for foreign troops, claiming nearly 1,000 lives.
The governor of Helmand province in a statement said nine attackers including three suicide bombers were killed and Afghan commando forces were busy with clearing the area.
An officer of the Afghan security forces in Helmand said a suicide bomber had blown himself up in a dining room inside the military corps compound and clashes continued.
The Taliban said their fighters were engaged in clashes with U.S. and Afghan forces at the Shorab airbase in Helmand province.
“Heavy clashes continue as tens of members of the enemy forces had been killed or were wounded,” Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman said in a statement.
Security officials in Kabul said clashes between the Taliban and the government forces who are backed by foreign forces have not subsided even as U.S. and Taliban officials were holding talks in Qatar to find a negotiated solution to end the war in Afghanistan.
The Afghan soldiers in the past week thwarted a Taliban attack in Zabul province, killing 28 Taliban fighters and at least 15 members of the insurgent groups were killed in air strikes conducted by the Afghan air force in Kandahar province, a senior security official said.
Additional reporting and writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Michael Perry