KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — An Afghan Army unit in the south of the country was almost completely wiped out on Thursday, defense officials said, in a Taliban attack that used what is becoming one of the group’s deadliest tactics: packing vehicles captured from security forces with explosives and driving them into military and police compounds.
At least 43 soldiers were killed in the predawn attack, out of a unit of 60 based in Maywand District in Kandahar Province, the Afghan Defense Ministry said in a statement. Only two soldiers were found unhurt. Nine were wounded, and six were missing.
“The whole base is destroyed,” said Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a ministry spokesman. “When the clashes started, they detonated a car bomb close to the base, then clashes continued for a while and then they detonated another car bomb. They also had Humvees packed with explosives.”
Two similar attacks on Tuesday inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan security forces. In those episodes, more than 40 police officers were killed in Afghanistan’s southeast, in the provinces of Ghazni and Paktia. Both involved insurgents’ taking captured vehicles, including Humvees, paid for by the United States military, packing them with explosives and detonating them at the compounds.
Considering the number of such vehicles at the Taliban’s disposal, security officials and analysts fear this tactic will inflict heavier casualties on Afghanistan’s already struggling security forces.
As the Taliban overran districts in the south of the country, and then briefly captured the northern city of Kunduz in 2015 and then again last year, officials expressed concern that they might deploy the army and police vehicles they took with them in future operations against the Afghan forces. Militants have long disguised themselves in Afghan security uniforms in their raids, and using security forces’ vehicles would make them more complicated to spot at checkpoints or at the gates of security compounds.
During a visit to Kunduz in 2015 by President Ashraf Ghani, the province’s interim governor warned about weapons and vehicles captured by the Taliban.
“The people’s concern is from the heavy weapons and the Humvees of the security forces that fell to the Taliban,” Hamdullah Danishi, the interim governor, said at the time. Aminullah Aimaq, a tribal elder, said if those vehicles and weapons were not destroyed, the Taliban could “march them back into the city.”
Safar Mohammed, the deputy police chief of Kunduz, estimates that the Taliban have captured about 20 Humvees from Afghan forces in the province, and about 60 to 70 Ranger pickup trucks.
The same concern has been raised by officials in the southern province of Helmand, where the Taliban first launched a high-profile suicide attack using an explosive-laden Humvee last autumn, destroying a district compound. To add insult to injury, they filmed the attack with drones, releasing high-quality video of the devastation.
Bashir Ahmad Shakir, head of the security committee at Helmand provincial council, estimated that insurgents in his province had captured about 100 vehicles, including Humvees and Ranger pickups, from the Afghan forces.
In neighboring Oruzgan Province, the Taliban seized 12 Humvees and about 30 other military vehicles during one attack on an Afghan National Civil Order Police unit, according to Dost Mohammed Nayab, the provincial spokesman.
In the provinces of Nangarhar in the east and Badakhshan in the northeast, officials say the Taliban have about two dozen army and police vehicles in each province.
The attack in Maywand District on Thursday began around 2:30 a.m., officials, and residents said, and the military base caught fire after the first explosion.
“The explosion was very powerful — it broke our doors and windows and we thought it might be an earthquake or bombs from aircrafts dropped on our home,” said Abdul Rahim Maiwandwal, a shopkeeper who lives in the Chashmo area of Maywand, a couple of miles from the base.
“After the explosion, we heard shootings, and then more explosions,” he said. “When I was leaving for work in the morning, I saw the camp was totally destroyed and burned.”
And alongside with the deaths and the destruction of the base, officials took note of another grim loss during the attack. “The Taliban seized seven vehicles — Humvees and Ranger trucks,” said Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a member of the Afghan Parliament.