KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban overran three security checkpoints in Afghanistan’s northern Takhar province, killing eight policemen and cutting off a key road and two of the region’s districts, an Afghan official said Tuesday.
Sunatullah Timor, the provincial spokesman, said Monday’s attack triggered an hours-long firefight and also left three police officers wounded. Eight of the attackers were also killed in the gunbattle, he said.
The insurgents succeeded in cutting off the districts of Darqad and Khuja Bhawedin, Timor said, but the government has sent in reinforcements and launched a counter-attack.
The attack coincided with Monday’s visit to Kabul by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to assess what has become America’s longest war as the Trump administration weighs sending in more U.S. troops to help the Afghans fight the insurgency.
From Kabul, Mattis offered a grim assessment for Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, saying that “2017 is going to be another tough year.” Mattis also accused Russia of providing weapons to the Taliban for use against American-backed forces in Afghanistan — a charge Moscow denies.
Mattis’ visit followed a Taliban raid on an Afghan base last week that according to some estimates killed over 130 soldiers and military personnel at a base in the north.
The attack — the biggest ever on a military base in Afghanistan — involved multiple gunmen and suicide bombers in army uniforms who penetrated the compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army in northern Balkh province on Friday.
Mattis met with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior government officials just hours after the nation’s defense minister and army chief resigned over the massacre.
On Tuesday, Ghani announced the appointment of Tareq Shah Bahrami as acting defense minister and Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali as the new army chief of staff. Bahrami was previously the deputy interior minister, and Yaftali was the top army commander in the eastern Paktia province.
After being introduced at the Defense Ministry, Bahrami said the complex attack on the base was beyond the capabilities of the Taliban and was orchestrated from beyond the country’s borders, without elaborating.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber driving a minivan struck a checkpoint in eastern Khost province on Monday, killing at least four Afghan security guards. Gen. Faizullah Ghyrat, a provincial police chief, said six other security guards were wounded.
The guards were providing security for a U.S. military base called Camp Chapman near the city of Khost, said Ghyrat.
The Taliban claimed the attack in a statement sent to media on Tuesday.
The Taliban have stepped up their attacks against both Afghan forces and civilians since foreign combat troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2014, leaving only an advisory and training contingent of international forces.
The Afghan military and security forces, with 195,000 soldiers and more than 150,000 policemen, have struggled to contain insurgency on their own.