Terrorism & Insurgency

Taliban “insider” attack demonstrates group’s strength and commitment to continue operations targeting Afghan government forces

26 March 2020

Afghan security officers secure the area of a collapsed building of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), following a Taliban attack, in Afghanistan’s Wardak province on 21 January 2019. Source: Getty Images

Key Points

  • Taliban militants killed at least 27 security forces personnel during an assault on a military base in Zabul province on 19 March.
  • The attack was the latest Taliban 'insider' attack, demonstrating the continuing vulnerability of the security forces to militant infiltration.
  • Despite positive developments in negotiations with the United States, the Taliban is highly unlikely to curb its campaign against government forces because of its position of strength and an intra-government impasse hindering progress in talks.

At least 27 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed when Taliban militants assaulted an Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) base in the southern province of Zabul late on 19 March. Provincial council member Haji Atta Jan Haqbayan told reporters that the attack lasted into the early hours of the following day, and that the militants had looted weapons and ammunition from the facility before withdrawing.

Separately, unnamed provincial officials told local media outlet TOLOnews that the assault had "involved policemen on the inside working with the attackers", and the Afghan Ministry of Defense confirmed on 20 March that the attack was facilitated by "infiltrators", adding that the incident was being investigated.

The Taliban's claim of responsibility, published via its Voice of Jihad website later on 20 March, also referenced the use of insiders, noting that "as many as eight infiltrator Mujahideen opened fire on enemy troops inside the base … killing 22 puppets" - the Taliban's standard terminology for members of the United States-backed Afghan security forces. The statement further claimed that Taliban forces had seized "an APC [armoured personnel carrier], 1 ranger pickup, 7 PKM machine guns, 5 RPG launchers, [and] 22 rifles, along with other equipment", and had also freed "two prisoner Mujahideen" held at the base.

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