KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide car bombing targeted an Afghan army compound in the country's north Thursday morning, killing six Afghan soldiers, the defense ministry said. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.
Shortly after the bomber detonated his car laden with explosives outside the small military base in Balkh province, a group of insurgents stormed into the compound, setting off a shootout with Afghan forces.
The defense ministry said in a statement that three Afghan soldiers were also wounded in the explosion and the ensuing "terrorist attack." The provincial governor's spokesman, Munir Farhad, said fighting inside the compound continued for hours before the attackers were repelled.
The Taliban, however, claimed they inflicted a far greater number of casualties and also that they captured the base and seized huge quantities of weapons and ammunition, according to a tweet by their spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. The militants routinely exaggerate their claims.
The Afghan ministry of defense rejects the Taliban claim, saying the insurgents had not taken the base.
The Taliban have been active in Balk in recent days. They targeted an army checkpoint in the province's district of Dawlat Abad on Tuesday, killing at least seven Afghan soldiers and wounding six other members of the security forces -- three soldiers and three intelligence agents. At the time, the Taliban said they also captured four Afghan troops and seized weapons and ammunition from the checkpoint.
The Taliban now control or hold sway over about half of Afghanistan but continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials -- even as they hold peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to the 18-year conflict, America's longest war. Scores of Afghan civilians are also killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by militants.
Also Thursday, 27 peace activists were released a day after they were abducted in an ambush on their convoy in western Afghanistan, a leader of the activist organization said.
Phone lines were down in the region, making communication difficult and the reason for the activists' abduction was still unclear, said Bismillah Watandost of the People's Peace Movement of Afghanistan.
The insurgents ambushed the group in the district of Bala Buluk in Farah province Tuesday. Insurgents forced the six-vehicle convoy to a halt, then got into the cars and drove them and the activists to an unknown location.
A Section on 12/27/2019