KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Authorities on Saturday raised the casualty toll to 100 in an attack on a military compound in northern Afghanistan a day earlier by gunmen and suicide bombers wearing army uniforms.
Gen. Daulat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense, said the attack Friday on a compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army left dozens of soldiers and other personnel dead or wounded.
Reports conflicted on the death toll, but at least two sources within the army corps and a provincial security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media, confirmed that more than 130 people were killed and at least 80 others were wounded.
The defense ministry had said Friday night that eight soldiers were killed and 11 others were wounded in its initial reports.
Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said the militants entered the base in Balkh province using two military vehicles and attacked army personnel inside the compound’s mosque.
“Two suicide bombers detonated their vests full of explosive inside the mosque of the army corps while everyone was busy with Friday prayers,” he said.
Waziri said there were 10 attackers, including the two who carried out the suicide attacks. Eight others were killed in a gun battle with soldiers.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault in an email sent to media.
President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday traveled to the base and strongly condemned the attack, according to a tweet from the official Twitter account of the presidential palace.
“The attackers are infidels,” Ghani was quoted as saying in the tweet.
Ghani announced that Sunday would be a day of national mourning, with memorial services across the country’s mosques and the Afghan flag flying at half-mast, in a statement issued by the Presidential Palace.
Afzel Hadid, head of provincial council in Balkh told The Associated Press that more than 100 people, both army personnel and others present at the time inside the army crops, were killed in the attack.
“The exact number is still not verified, but for sure we know more than 100 were killed in the attack,” said Hadid.
One of the attack survivors, an Afghan army soldier, Mohammad Hussain who was wounded and transported to a hospital in Mazar-e-Sharif said “Three people in an Afghan National Army vehicle started shooting at us when we finished Friday prayers, they are the enemies of the country.”
“I don’t know maybe they had someone inside to help them to bring the vehicle inside. There are seven to eight checkpoints from the main gate and without inside help this vehicle cannot enter the compound and get to the mosque.”
In the Taliban’s detailed statement on the attack posted on its official website, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that four of the 10 attackers were disguised as soldiers at the time of the attack.
The Taliban statement said the attack was retaliation for the killing of the Taliban governor of Kunduz province, Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, and threatened more violence against the army and police, saying “this year’s operations will be painful.”
Local TV footage showed hundreds of people gathered outside the army crops waiting to find out if their relatives had been killed or wounded.
In March, an attack on a military hospital in the capital Kabul killed 50 people. Responsibility for that attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. According to officials, five attackers were involved, including one suicide bomber who detonated an explosives belt and four gunmen who stormed the building.
The 209th corps is located in the Dihdadi district of Balkh. It is one of seven corps of the country’s Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for providing security for Afghanistan’s northern and northeastern provinces.