Surprise Attack by the Taliban Kills 25 Afghan Police Officers

KABUL (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

Taliban terrorists launched surprise attacks against police checkpoints in southern Afghanistan and killed at least 25 officers, officials said Sunday.

Officials in Zabul province said terrorists from several provinces carried out the attacks against government installations in the provincial capital, Qalat, and three police posts in Shahjoy district late Saturday.

The provincial governor, Besmellah Afghanmal, said 25 police officers were killed and six wounded. The victims included members of the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Local Police, a U.S.-funded government militia that provides security in rural areas.

Bakht Mohammad, an Afghan Local Police commander in Shahjoy, said fighting with the Taliban was continuing.

“I can see some dead bodies of the Taliban on the ground,” Mohammad said. A Taliban leader was killed, he said. “The Taliban fighters are surrounded. We will expel them all.”

Atta Jan Haqbayan, head of the elected provincial council in Zabul, said Taliban fighters from three provinces were attempting to capture the district, part of the Taliban’s drive to increase its share of territory in outlying parts of Afghanistan. The U.S. military estimates that more than 40 percent of the Afghan population lives under areas of either total or partial Taliban control.

The Afghan security forces “suffered big casualties and the fighting is still going on,” Haqbayan said. “We also have civilian casualties. The (Afghan Local Police) is running out of ammo and isn’t getting backup on time.”

Tolo News, an Afghan news organization, said local officials in Zabul said they could not immediately reach their superiors to send help after the fighting began.

Shafiqullah, a school principal in Shahjoy who goes by only one name, said he took shelter in his house and could hear bullets and rocket fire nearby.

“The attack was huge,” he said Sunday afternoon. “But half an hour ago some backup arrived (for Afghan forces) and the fighting resumed.”

The killings supported concerns that the Afghan security forces are often outgunned by the Taliban, which is adept at mounting surprise attacks.

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering whether to send as many as 5,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to increase assistance to Afghan soldiers and police. There are now fewer than 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In Kabul, meanwhile, gunmen attacked a guest house occupied by foreign aid workers, killing a German woman and an Afghan security guard, authorities said. A second woman, a Finnish national, was missing and Afghan officials believe she was kidnapped.

The two women killed were members of the staff of Operation Mercy, a Swedish charity organization, said Cathy Stanley, a spokeswoman for the group.

Foreign nationals have often been targeted by terrorists in Afghanistan. In August, an American and an Australian working for the American University of Afghanistan were kidnapped by gunmen in Kabul.

In January, the Taliban released a video in which the men pleaded with Mr. Trump, who was about to be inaugurated, to secure their release. They are still being held.