HELMAND/KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least 25 Afghan soldiers were killed as they repelled an attack on Friday by the Taliban on a military base in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, officials said.
Afghan forces killed at least nine Taliban insurgents, including three suicide bombers, during the attack by the hardline Islamist group, the provincial governor said in a statement. Afghan commando forces were clearing the area, he said.
The 215 Maiwand Army Corps came under attack in the early hours of Friday, said a senior security official in Kabul, adding the attack was the Taliban’s third attempt to overrun Camp Shorab, a strategic military installation, in the past 48 hours.
An Afghan security forces officer in Helmand said one of the suicide bombers had blown himself up in a dining room inside the military corps compound, and clashes continued.
The U.S. advise and assist mission, which works alongside Afghan troops, operates from the base. Foreign forces present at the base were safe as the Taliban could not breach the walls of their compound, two other security officials said.
Security officials in Kabul say clashes between the Taliban and government forces backed by foreign forces have not subsided even as U.S. and Taliban officials are holding talks in Qatar to seek a negotiated solution to end Afghanistan’s long war.
Repeated raids on Camp Shorab, a sprawling base situated on what used to be Camp Bastion, the former British airbase, and Camp Leatherneck, the old U.S. Marine Corps base in Helmand, have underlined the Taliban’s ability to target critical security installations.
The Taliban said their fighters were engaged in clashes with U.S. and Afghan forces at Shorab base.
“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.
Taliban commanders based in Helmand said their suicide bombers who stormed the Shorab base had worked in the same camp previously.
“It is the same military base which we attacked in 2012 with a plan to kill Prince Harry. In recent months we provided special training to these attackers and arranged a visit to the base several times,” said a commander.
A second Taliban commander said some members of the Afghan national army had helped the suicide bombers conduct a reconnaissance of the camp.
Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, was in Afghanistan in 2012 on a four-month tour as a British Army officer. He was based in Camp Bastion on the front line in the NATO-led war against Taliban insurgents who said at the time that they were doing everything in their power to kidnap or kill him.
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.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said he plans to reduce U.S. forces as talks with the Taliban progress.
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 provide a source of much of the world’s illegal opium supply. During more than a decade of international intervention, it was the deadliest province for foreign troops, claiming nearly 1,000 lives.
In the past week, Afghan soldiers also 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 by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Rupam Jain in Kabul; Editing by Michael Perry, Rod Nickel and Frances Kerry