KABUL, Afghanistan — Early this morning, at least 27 Taliban fighters—including at least one suicide bomber—attacked an Afghan Army base, manned by some United States military personnel, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. At least five Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in the attack. According to U.S. Army Colonel Dave Butler, the official spokesperson for American military forces in Afghanistan, no Americans were killed.
The Afghan National Security Forces said in a statement that the attackers have now been defeated and Afghan soldiers are clearing the camp to ensure there are no fighters left hiding in the sprawling base.
The base, called Shorab Air Base by Afghan forces, is known as Camp Leatherneck or Camp Bastion to the Americans who were stationed there from 2009 until U.S. major combat operations ceased in Afghanistan in 2014. It was the largest base in Helmand Province from which U.S. Marines and Special Forces launched multiple operations.
According to an Afghan Army officer currently in Shorab, the Taliban snuck into the base on the western wall around 3 a.m. this morning, made their way into the dining hall, and stabbed people inside to death. After attacking the dining hall, the attackers moved throughout the base. They were seen by Afghan Army soldiers in a guard tower and were fired upon immediately.
The Taliban claim that at least one suicide bomber detonated himself inside the base's dining hall. Locals reported heavy smoke coming from the camp as well as U.S. helicopters and airstrikes around its perimeter almost six hours after the attack began.
Afghan National Security Force sources report the garrison commander stationed at the base was killed in the attack.
The attack is the largest on a U.S.-manned base in Afghanistan in years, and occurred as the U.S. is proposing a three- to five-year window for the full withdrawal of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, a timeline the Taliban has already taken issue with, as reported by the New York Times. The attack fell during a planned break in negotiations between U.S. representatives and those of the Taliban, including Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar, in Doha, raising concerns for Afghans and Americans alike that it was intended to send a message to the American delegation.
The Taliban claim the attack was in response to civilian casualties caused by U.S. and Afghan government forces, yet the Taliban are responsible for an overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. It is unclear at this time if the attack was ordered by Taliban leaders in Doha.
U.S. and Taliban representatives have been discussing how a U.S. military withdraw would work while ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a base of operations for international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Daesh. Daesh, also known as ISIS, currently operates in Afghanistan, where, according to the most recent United Nations report on civilian casualties in the country, they killed 681 Afghans and wounded 1,500 in 2018, a 118 percent increase over the previous year.
In December the Taliban's appointed leader for Helmand Province was killed by an American drone strike, and last month the Afghan Army claimed to have killed the Taliban's intelligence chief in the province. The army believed this assassination would weaken the Taliban's ability to fight Afghan Army forces in the province.
Update—March 4th, 2019: A Taliban spokesperson on Twitter claims that they lost contact with their fighters in Camp Shorab early yesterday morning, and Afghan military sources say the base has been secured. Reports from Afghan media and Afghan National Security Forces sources are conflicted, but place the number of casualties well below the Taliban claim of hundreds of U.S. and Afghan soldiers dead.
The U.S. military has not reported any U.S. casualties and has not commented on the attack to Pacific Standard after initially declaring the fighting over two days ago. Since the attack on Shorab began, Taliban attacks against Afghan military positions across Helmand Province have been reported by Afghan media.