Afghanistan’s top two defence officials have resigned after , as the US defence secretary, James Mattis, touched down on an unannounced visit to meet American troops and Afghan officials.
“Defence minister Abdullah Habibi and army chief of staff Qadam Shah Shahim stepped down with immediate effect,” the presidential palace in Kabul .
Protesters gathered outside the palace on Monday after public pressure mounted over the weekend for officials to be held accountable.
The attack on Friday at the largest Afghan army base in the north, possibly the deadliest inflicted by the on the country’s security forces since 2001, involved up to 12 militants. They breached the base by posing as injured soldiers, in fatigues and military vehicles, wearing leg bandages and arm drips.
After setting off explosives at one checkpoint, they went on a shooting rampage outside the base mosque and inside the mess hall where they gunned down crowds of unarmed soldiers.
Mattis arrived 10 days after the US in eastern Afghanistan, and a day after 300 additional US marines were deployed to bolster Afghan security forces in the embattled Helmand province.
The Afghan government maintains the casualty toll from the Taliban attack is about 100 injured and killed. However, various unofficial sources, including in the , put the number of dead as high as 170.
The perceived failure to account for the full death toll has angered many Afghans. the government is disrespecting them.
Habibi, a four-star lieutenant general, was appointed defence minister last June; Shahim had been in his post since 2015. Momand Katawazai, the commander of the 209th Corps, whose base was overrun, was also removed on Monday.
The latest attack was the third major intelligence failure in as many months. In March, gunmen stormed an army hospital in the capital, Kabul, killing dozens of injured soldiers and medical personnel.
In January, an attack inside the governor’s heavily fortified compound in Kandahar killed more than a dozen people, including the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates and five of his envoys.
Taliban fighters continue to grab territory across the country, encroaching on half a dozen provincial capitals, including in Helmand.
In a news conference following meetings with Ghani and the commander of US and Nato troops in , Mattis lashed out at the Taliban.
“It certainly characterises this fight for exactly what it is. These people have no religious foundation, they are not devout anything,” he said. “This barbaric enemy and what they do kind of makes it clear to me why it is we stand together.”
A Taliban detonated a car bomb against a US base, Camp Chapman, in the eastern province of Khost on Monday. A US military spokesman said no Americans were harmed, but was unsure of potential Afghan casualties. The police chief of Khost, Faizullah Ghairat, said the attack site had been closed off and he didn’t have information about casualties either.
Mattis did not comment specifically on the 13 April US strike on Isis in eastern Afghanistan, but the US commander, Gen John Nicholson, said the strike was a message to the group: “If they come to Afghanistan, they will be destroyed.”
The Afghan government has said the assault in Nangarhar killed more than 90 Isis militants. The US has not yet commented on the result of the strike.
Ghani’s pledges to overhaul the leadership and culture of the security forces have shown little result. In one sign of the absence of much-needed reforms, a showed that the torture of detainees by security forces remained widespread.
According to the report, 39% of detainees interviewed said they had been tortured or ill-treated, the highest proportion since UN monitoring began in 2010.
The worst perpetrators in the security forces were the militia-style Afghan Local Police, who tortured or mistreated about 60% of detainees, according to the report. Of the people captured by the national police, 45 spoke of torture, a 14% increase from the previous report in 2015.