On March 1, Helmand Province's Camp Shorab, once known as Camp Bastion, came under major attack by the Taliban, who infiltrated the base with more than 20 fighters and killed at least as many Afghan soldiers before US Marines stationed in another part of the base repelled the attack. According to a New York Times article last week, some of the militiamen snuck into the camp through a lightly defended western part of the base by hiding inside the storage tank of a sewage truck, hoping its smell would deter close scrutiny.
The Taliban attack was brazen: outnumbered 200 to 1, they used ladders to scale fences and then scurried across a no-man's land and past the sleepy guards without being detected. Some of the Taliban fighters had Afghan army uniforms, only adding to the confusion. They were further helped by sympathizers among the Afghan forces inside, including an Afghan army lieutenant colonel and a sergeant major who directed them to their targets inside the base, military officials told the NYT.
The Taliban fighters laid ambushes outside the offices of key Afghan commanders in the base, gunning them down as they rushed to respond to the attack. Several of the attackers were suicide bombers, and one detonated his explosive vest inside the mess hall, Task & Purpose reported at the time.
Control over the base was restored by nightfall, as the last remaining pockets of Taliban fighters were killed.
When it was called Camp Bastion, the fort was home to thousands of US troops and sported state-of-the-art defenses, including motion sensors in the area breached by the Taliban fighters. Today, however, only a small contingent of US Marines engaged in training Afghan forces remains, sequestered in their own corner of the base and maintaining a separate perimeter from the Afghan forces.
Further, it was the third time the Taliban had infiltrated the base; past attacks included one in September 2012 that devastated a US Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier squadron, and just a few months before that, a suicide bomber in an SUV narrowly missed several US and UK generals awaiting the arrival of then-US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
The Marine Corps Times reported Thursday that several of the Marines who played key roles in repelling the attack were to receive combat action ribbons for the firefight.
The attack came mere hours before a new round of peace talks between US and Taliban officials was to begin in Doha, Qatar, and was coordinated with several other attacks on US bases in southwestern Afghanistan that the Times reported were likely diversions from the main attack on Shorab.
Despite continued fighting between Taliban forces and US-Afghan allied forces in the war-torn country, peace talks in Doha have proceeded as the US seeks to exit the 17-year-long war with the militant group, if guarantees of peace can be achieved.