An interior ministry spokesperson said a suicide car bomber struck the base first, followed by insurgents who opened fire at the Afghan forces in Maidan Shar, the capital of Maidan Wardak province.
An official in the defence ministry, speaking anonymously, told Reuters the death toll was as high as 126.
The Taliban welcomed the news of President Trump’s plan to withdraw half of US troops in Afghanistan by the summer, while Afghan generals warned Friday it would be a blow to the morale of the country’s beleaguered security forces.
The announcement seemed certain to complicate efforts to reach a peace deal, mostly because it gives the Taliban leverage.
The attack triggered an hours-long firefight at the base and the Pakistani forces said they killed 13 of the attackers, though it was unclear how many were involved in the assault. Apart from 16 slain inside the mosque, three guards employed with the air force and an army captain were also killed, officials said.
The attack was a major blow for Pakistan’s military, which stepped up operations against the militants following a horrific Taliban attack last December at a Peshawar school that killed 150 people, mostly children. It also underscored the ability of the militants to stage spectacular attacks on targets linked to the country’s military and government.
In Friday’s assault, the attackers first stormed the guard room of the Badaber base, according to air force officials. The base was established in 1960s as an air force facility but has mostly been used as a residential place for air force employees and officers from Peshawar.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa said 13 attackers were killed by the security forces. He said the attack was quickly repulsed and that the bodies of the slain “terrorist” were lying on the ground in the base compound.
However, details about how the Taliban managed to make their way into the mosque, which is inside the compound walls, and gun down 16 people during prayers were sketchy.
Bajwa said the militants entered the base from different directions in a two-pronged assault — apparently one push targeted the mosque — but that security forces quickly responded.
It was also unclear if any of the attackers got away.
According to Bajwa and a statement released by the air force, along with those killed, 10 soldiers were wounded in the firefight with militants, along with an unspecified number of civilians. The dead and most the wounded were taken to a military hospital in the area, where access was barred to reporters.