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Afghanistan in mourning after Taliban attack on army base

A national day of mourning has been declared after Taliban militants killed at least 140 people in an attack on an army compound in northern Afghanistan. Some say intelligence failures and other mistakes by Kabul and its foreign allies led to the incident.

Afghanistan's President ordered on Saturday that flags be flown at half mast after Taliban militants disguised in military uniforms killed scores of people in an attack on an army base.

At least 10 militants launched an attack on a base in northern Balkh province on Friday, storming it in three military vehicles. They killed most of their victims in a mosque inside the compound where army personnel were at Friday prayers.

"They are getting closer to our building and shooting anyone they see," a medical staffer of the 209th Shaheen Military Corps told DW only minutes after the attack on the army base had started.

"Pray for me," the medical staffer begged in his telephone conversation with DW, as if those were his last words.
DW was able to establish contact with the corps medical staffer only one hour after the first call. Fortunately, he was alive and in a secure location, but had very sad news.

"More then 135 are killed and many more wounded," he said.

Karte Afghanistan Mazar-i-Sharif Englisch (DW)

Three-hour rampage

The attackers used rocket-propelled grenades and rifles.  Several of them detonated suicide vests packed with explosives, officials told Reuters.

Witnesses described confusion as soldiers were uncertain about the attackers' true identity.

"It was a chaotic scene and I didn't know what to do," one army officer wounded in the attack told news agency Reuters. "There was gunfire and explosions everywhere."

"They entered the compound using two army trucks with machine guns on top of them. They opened fire on everyone. And then they entered the mosque and dining room, killing everyone indiscriminately," Mohammad Hussain, an army officer wounded in the attack, told AFP as he was treated in hospital.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters at least 140 soldiers were killed, while an Afghan army source told Agence France-Presse it was at many as 150. Scores more were injured.

All the assailants were also killed after going on a rampage for more than three hours at the base.

Afghanistan in mourning after Taliban attack on army base

Fighting went on for some three hours before the attackers were killed

National day of mourning

The base in Mazar-i-Sharif is the command center for northern Afghanistan. A contingent from the German army is based there as well, but no German soldiers were reported injured in the attack.

President Ashraf Ghani declared a national day of mourning after visiting the sight of the attack.

Ghani ordered that flags be flown at half mast on Sunday in memory of the troops who died.

Ghani held an emergency meeting with senior security officials and called for a "serious" investigation into the attack.

In a statement online, he condemned the attack as "cowardly" and the work of "infidels".

This is the second such attack on a secure facility in

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Taliban attack underlines shortcomings in Afghan security

Thirteen Taliban militants disguised in military uniforms launched an attack on the Afghan army base in northern Balkh province on Friday, storming it in three military vehicles. They killed most of their victims in a mosque inside the compound where army personnel were at Friday prayers.

"They are getting closer to our building and shooting anyone they see," a medical staffer of the 209th Shaheen Military Corps told DW only minutes after the attack on the army base had started.

"Pray for me," the medical staffer begged in his telephone conversation with DW, as if those were his last words.

DW was able to establish contact with the corps medical staffer only one hour after the first call. Fortunately, he was alive and in a secure location, but had very sad news.

"More then 135 are killed and many more wounded," he said.

Karte Afghanistan Mazar-i-Sharif Englisch (DW)

Three-hour rampage

The number of those killed in the attack rose to 143 later, with more than 160 others wounded. All the assailants were also killed after going on a rampage for more than three hours at the base.

The base in Mazar-i-Sharif is the command center for northern Afghanistan. A contingent from the German army is based there as well, but no German soldiers were reported injured in the attack.

"Many of my friends, people who worked with me, are among the casualties," said the medical staffer, who did not want to be named as he was not authorized to talk to media.

This is the second such attack on a secure facility in recent months. In early March, "Islamic State" (IS) militants attacked a military hospital in Kabul and killed 49 people, leaving 76 wounded. The actual number of those killed in the Kabul attack is also said to be much higher than the numbers given by the Afghan government.

Taliban attack underlines shortcomings in Afghan security

Fighting went on for some three hours before the attackers were killed

Taliban boosts attacks in northern Afghan provinces

Such a large-scale attack in Balkh province would have been considered very unlikely only a few years back. Northern provinces - Balkh in particular - were considered the safest in Afghanistan until 2010. But now Kunduz, Balkh, Faryab, Sari Pul and Baghlan - all in the north - have become a new battlefield between Afghan security forces and its armed opponents.

Read more on the situation in northern Afghanistan here.

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, has boosted its presence in several districts and is threatening to launch attacks on provincial capitals. The group was even able to briefly take control of northern Kunduz city in 2015 and for a second time a year later.

"The government controls Kunduz city and district centers but the Taliban are in charge of the rest of the province," Abdul Ahad Turyal Kakar, a member of the provincial council in Kunduz, told DW.

The situation in Balkh is not as dire as in Kunduz, but Friday's attack highlights the Taliban's ability to launch a heavy attack on one of the most heavily guarded compounds in the safest

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Indian farmers stage bizarre protests to highlight demands

Swaminala Vimalnathan, 45, a farmer from Thanjavur, often referred to as the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, is wearing a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and flogging the agitating farmers with a whip. He is dressed in Modi's trademark jacket and kurta (a loose collarless shirt) and shows no regret while flogging the protesters.

"This mock drill is to showcase the insensitive attitude of the Modi government. By whipping us, we are trying to tell the world that the Prime Minister is trying to beat us out of Delhi," says Vimalnathan, dressed only in a green loincloth.

Eye-popping protests

Braving scorching temperatures, this collective of over 100 farmers from various parts of Tamil Nadu has been camping at Jantar Mantar, the capital's iconic rallying site, to highlight their grievances and are determined they will not leave till their demands are met.

They want their loans waved off as their crops were ruined in a severe drought and a subsequent cyclone last year.

Indien Neu Delhi Proteste von Bauern (DW/M. Krishnan)

The farmers have conducted mock funerals, eaten mice to depict loss of livelihood due to drought and also paraded naked in front of the Prime Minister's Office

They have come prepared for the long haul and have brought along with them props, skulls, mice and snakes to showcase their bizarre protests. Almost all of them sleep out in the open, some on hot pavements with no protection from the natural elements.

"Modi refers to farmers as the backbone of the nation. But our backbone has been crushed. Yet we will not give up.  For us, this is a do-or-die battle," says P Ayyakannu, 72, the leader of the protest. 

To draw attention to their plight, the farmers have conducted mock funerals, had their heads tonsured, eaten mice to depict loss of livelihood due to drought and also paraded naked in front of the Prime Minister's Office. To mark the Tamil New Year on April 15, five farmers including a woman cut their hands with razors as a mark of protest.

Many have brought along skulls of their fellow farmers (main picture) who committed suicide because of the crippling debts they could not pay off, and have displayed them prominently at the rallying site.

"I have brought my wife's skull. She worked in a rural bank and when I was unable to pay off the loan and had to sell my land, she committed suicide by consuming pesticide," said Damodar, a farmer from Salem.

Charter of demands

The group is determined to get the government to meet their various demands, which include payment of drought relief as well as pensions to old farmers who can no longer tend to their fields. If they are approved, the assistance is expected to cost the government about 40,000 crore rupees (around 5.7 billion euros).

"If the government can grant corporate loan waivers, then why is it ignoring the demands of farmers? There is massive rural distress in Tamil Nadu and you are looking at another looming drought this year," says Kartikeya

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