By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN and ROD NORDLANDNOV. 29, 2014
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters overran an Afghan National Army outpost in Helmand Province in the country’s south late Friday night and by Saturday morning had killed as many as 14 soldiers in one of the insurgents’ deadliest attacks against Afghan soldiers this year, local officials said.
Elsewhere in Helmand Province, the army battled for the third day against insurgents who had fought their way onto the army’s main base in the south, Camp Bastion. The former British base had been handed over to the Afghans in October.
Amid this intensifying fighting in the south, where the Taliban have traditionally been strongest, the pattern of escalating suicide attacks in Kabul, the capital, continued late Saturday afternoon. At least three Taliban insurgents stormed a Kabul guesthouse that the authorities said was occupied by a nongovernment organization. The Taliban claimed that the guesthouse belonged to Christian missionaries, but that could not be confirmed.
The spokesman for the Kabul police, Hashmatullah Stanikzai, said two staff members of the nongovernment organization had been killed in the attack. One was an Afghan, and the other was a foreigner, Mr. Stanikzai said.
There have been at least 10 attacks or bombings in Kabul in the past three weeks, ending a short period of relative calm.
The deadly attack against the army outpost on Friday began around 11 p.m., some 300 yards from the district center of Sangin, an area in northern Helmand Province that has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in past years between NATO troops and the Taliban. Since the last coalition troops pulled out of Sangin in the spring, the insurgents have carried out nearly nonstop offensives against government forces in the Sangin district and other areas in northern Helmand.
The attack continued until morning, with Taliban forces planting explosives beneath the outpost’s towers, toppling them to the ground, according to Hajji Amir Jan, the deputy chief of the local government council, or shura. Mr. Jan said that the bodies of 14 Afghan soldiers were discovered in the rubble on Saturday. He noted that the outpost was so thoroughly damaged that the army had to use an excavator to recover the bodies.
Mr. Jan said that while other soldiers were garrisoned in the district center, they did not reinforce the outpost, instead firing from their base. Gen. Abdul Qadus, the deputy commander for the brigade at Sangin, said that the Taliban had suffered heavy casualties but rejected as “propaganda” any reports of army casualties. A Defense Ministry spokesman, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, declined to comment, saying he did not know what had happened in Sangin.
Other local officials gave accounts similar to the narrative provided by Mr. Jan.
“We have seen 14 dead bodies of A.N.A. soldiers,” said Hajji Nanai, the leader of the local shura’s justice committee. He said that about 20 soldiers had been at the outpost. The fate of the remaining soldiers was not immediately clear. “Around 11 p.m., we heard shooting throughout whole night but with no reinforcement from the brigade,” Mr. Nanai said, referring to the army troops headquartered in the Sangin district center. “We do not know who to complain to to get us out of this trouble.”
On the other side of Helmand Province, to the southwest, Taliban fighters who had infiltrated Camp Bastion defied Afghan Army commanders who had declared first on Thursday night and again on Friday that they had beaten back the attack.
On Saturday, the fighting flared up again, but by nightfall, Gen. Ghulam Farooq Parwani, the deputy commander of the 215th Afghan National Army Corps, which is garrisoned at Camp Bastion, said the last of the 25 insurgents had been killed.
Seven Afghan soldiers died in the fighting, General Parwani said.
Camp Bastion is the biggest and most important Afghan-run military site in southern Afghanistan. It was handed over by the British on Oct. 26. This was not the first time the Taliban had infiltrated the base. In 2012, Taliban insurgents killed two Marines and severely damaged eight attack jets after blowing a hole in the base’s perimeter. Officials played down the seriousness of the attack in Kabul on Saturday, although explosions and gunfire could be heard from the area hours after the attack began. Mr. Stanikzai, the Kabul police spokesman, said that three attackers had been killed. A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Sediq Sediqqi, said that the police had rescued seven people, and that none of their forces had been wounded or killed.
Assadullah Shirzad, the commander of Special Forces for the Interior Ministry, said that a sergeant had been slightly wounded, contradicting Afghan news reports that the head of the ministry’s Crisis Response Unit had been wounded. Two of the three attackers had been killed, he said, and officials said they expected the third to be subdued soon.
Afghan officials identified the insurgents’ target as a small foreign aid organization known as PATH, but there was no confirmation of claims by the Taliban that their target was a Christian organization.
A spokesman for the National Directorate for Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, Abdul Haseeb Sediqqi, complained that news media accounts of the Kabul attack were overplaying its importance. The aid group is a small one, and only three workers were inside at the time of the attack, he said.
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan.