KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants attacked an army outpost near the eastern border with Pakistan on Friday, killing 13 soldiers, the Defense Ministry said.
The attack occurred in a volatile province that serves as a major gateway for insurgents coming from Pakistan. Hostilities have surged as weather improves, allowing easier passage through the mountainous area.
The fighting began at dawn and lasted about five hours in the Nari district of Kunar province, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said. He said 13 Afghan soldiers were killed.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said the insurgents captured the base, seizing ammunition and weapons. He put the death toll at 15 Afghan soldiers, claiming the militants suffered no casualties among their fighters.
Taliban and other insurgents enjoy refuge in Pakistan's lawless northwestern area and use Kunar as one of their main infiltration routes into Afghanistan.
This year's fighting season is being closely watched because Afghan forces have to operate with less support from the international military coalition, making it a test case of their ability to take over the country's security. U.S. and other foreign combat troops are preparing to withdraw by the end of 2014 and are taking on more of an advisory and training role for their Afghan counterparts.
Afghanistan now has about 100,000 international troops, including 66,000 from the United States. The U.S. troop total is scheduled to drop to about 32,000 by early next year. The bulk of the reduction is to occur after fighting winds down this winter.