The Taliban launched a major attack on the northern base of an Afghan army corps, inflicting heavy casualties in an ongoing battle near the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, U.S. Central Command said Friday.
There were conflicting reports on the number of Afghans killed, but no immediate indication that U.S. or NATO troops were among the casualties, said Air Force Col. John Thomas, a CentCom spokesman. Afghan officials initially said eight Afghan soldiers were killed and then raised the total to 20.
Thomas said there were likely more than 50 casualties, either killed or wounded, in the attack that was called "murderous and reprehensible" by the NATO command in Kabul.
"It was a significant attack from enemy forces" on the base called Camp Shaheen, headquarters of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Security Defense Forces, which is responsible for much of northern Afghanistan, Thomas said.
Afghan army spokesman Nasratullah Jamshidi told Reuters that the Taliban gained entry to the base when six fighters in two military vehicles told guards at the gates that they were carrying wounded soldiers and urgently needed entry.
Other reports said the Taliban swarmed through gaps in the gates blown open by suicide attackers and then fell upon Afghan soldiers at a mosque and a dining facility.
German troops with the NATO mission are based at Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, and about 70 of them advise the 209th Corps. "To our knowledge, no Germans were affected" by the Taliban attack, "nor were any other soldiers in the multinational force harmed," a spokesman for the German Operations Command told Reuters.
Attacks by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan had been rare but increased last year as the group's influence spread from its southern base.
In a report last month, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that 83 of Afghanistan's 398 districts were under Taliban control, and another 150 were heavily influenced by the Taliban.
The attack in the north came a week after the U.S. dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb carrying nearly 11 tons of explosives on a tunnel and cave complex of the ISIS offshoot called the Islamic State-Khorasan Province in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Fighting reportedly was continuing in the area.
The MOAB was dropped just before the arrival in Afghanistan of Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser, to gauge the progress of U.S. involvement in the nearly 16-year-old war.
McMaster was also there to assess the request of Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO Resolute Support Mission, for a "few thousand" more U.S. troops to train and advise Afghan forces. Currently, about 8,500 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.