Afghanistan’s Defense Leadership Resigns after Largest Taliban Attack on Army Base Kills over 130 Soldiers

Afghan Army soldiers gather at a mosque to pray for the departed souls of their comrades who was killed in Balkh, Afghanistan, 23 April 2017. Photo: Sayed Mustafa/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Afghanistan’s military leadership has stepped down after a major terrorist attack on an army base.
  • Attack was the Taliban’s largest since the US toppled them from power in Afghanistan in 2001.
  • It has coincided with an unannounced visit to Afghanistan by US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
  • Attack has further questioned the ability of the Afghan army to stand alone against the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s Defense Minister and army chief have resigned in the wake of a terrorist attack committed by the Taliban movement against an Afghan military base which killed some 130 people.

Last Friday, multiple attackers and suicide bombers penetrated the compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army near Mazar-e Sharif in the northern Balkh province.

The Taliban targeted the Afghan troops leaving Friday prayers at the base’s mosque as well as in the dining hall.

The terrorist attack on the base near Mazar-e Sharif has been the Taliban’s largest against a facility of the Afghan National Army since in 2001 the US toppled the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Resignations

Afghanistan’s Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and Afghan National Army Chief of Staff Qadam Shah Shaheem resigned from their posts on Monday in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attack by the Taliban, local news agency Khaama Press reported.

Their resignations have been accepted by Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.

“Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and Army Chief of Staff Qadam Shah Shahim stepped down with immediate effect,” the Office of the President, ARG Palace, said.

The resignations come after on Sunday the Afghan lawmakers decided to summon the defense minister for an enquiry into the security failures at the base where the Taliban attack was committed.

A group of at least ten Taliban insurgents reportedly stormed the base by initially launching a suicide attack and allowing the remaining militants to start shooting spree.

Later on Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani approved changes in the command of the key army corps across the country.

Gen. Peyada Amanullah, who was previously serving as commander of the 207th Zafar Corps, was appointed as the commadner of the 209th Corps.

Gen. Mohmand Khan, the commander of 209th Shaheen Corps, was put on the reserve list of the directorate and personnel. Several other corps of the Afghan National Army also saw a reshuffle of their commanders.

Afghan soldiers stand guard as military ambulances enter a military base a day after it was targeted by the militants in Balkh province, Afghanistan, 22 April 2017. Photo: Mutalib Sultani/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Mattis Visit

US Defense Secretary James Mattis was expected to meet Afghan officials and US troops in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit, but his arrival coincided with the Friday’s Taliban assault.

Sources told Al Jazeera that his arrival was to determine role and goals of the US troops in Afghanistan.

The US Department of Defense is said to be presently considering whether to deploy additional trainers to Afghanistan to help bolster US allies there. About 8,400 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan.

“It is not an easy time. An attack of this scale has affected many people in this country and of course us as well, but these resignations did not affect our morale,” General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesperson of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, told Al Jazeera.

“We will make sure that whoever is responsible for this attack will face our wrath, they [attackers/Taliban] need to get ready now,” he added.

Protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in Kabul on Monday mounting pressure for officials to be held accountable, but not many participated in the demonstration due to high security alert in the area.

Al Jazeera points out that both Afghan military officials who resigned following the latest Taliban attack were under pressure to step down a month ago, when Taliban militants killed over 50 people in a hospital attack in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter.

On Sunday, Afghanistan held a day of national mourning for the victims of the terrorist attack.

The Taliban attack on the Afghan military base Mazar-e Sharif in the northern Balkh province is said to raise serious questions about the Afghan military’s ability to stand on its own in the civil war following the withdrawal of foreign combat forces at the end of 2014.

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