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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Taliban kill, kidnap dozens of Afghan police

KABUL, May 31 (Reuters) - Taliban fighters killed at least a dozen Afghan police and abducted up to 40 in two separate attacks in southern Afghanistan, while U.S.-led forces launched an offensive in a nearby province, officials said on Wednesday.

In the southern province of Zabul, a senior police official, Mohammad Rasoul, was killed and four other people, including two senior provincial officials, were wounded after the Taliban hit their car with a rocket on Tuesday night.

"They were part of a reinforcement sent to help a group of highway police who had come under Taliban attack on a road of Zabul," said Yousuf Stanizai, the Interior Ministry spokesman.

An official in Zabul, who declined to be identified, said more than 10 policemen were killed in the Taliban assault.

The raid in Zabul came hours after the Taliban attacked a police base in Chora district of neighbouring Uruzgan province and abducted up to 40 policemen, an official in Kabul said on condition of anonymity.

A Reuters reporter received a phone call from an unknown person who described himself as Mullah Ahmad, a Taliban commander, and said the militants had taken the police hostage and the Taliban's leadership would decide their fate.

He said militants had killed 12 police in the attack before kidnapping the others.

Separately, coalition and Afghan troops on Wednesday scoured villages for Taliban insurgents in several areas of Ghazni province, said Sher Alam Ibrahimi, the region's governor.

The operation was launched following a series of Taliban attacks in the province recently and amid reports the militants had regrouped there, Ibrahimi said.

Coalition forces captured six suspected Taliban fighters, but there were no reports of fighting, he added. A coalition spokesman could not be contacted for comment.

Meanwhile, the capital Kabul was calm on Wednesday following anti-U.S. riots two days earlier, in which at least seven Afghans were killed. The riots were sparked by a U.S. military truck killing five civilians after its brakes failed.

A night curfew has been in place in the city, and Afghan troops were patrolling the streets.

The U.S. military has offered compensation to family and dependents of those killed in the accident.

The violence in Zabul and Uruzgan comes amid a series of operations by coalition forces in the south in the past two weeks.

Some 350 people have been killed, many of them in air strikes. Most of those killed were militants, but the toll also includes dozens of police, at least 17 civilians and four foreign troops.

It is the bloodiest period in the insurgency since coalition troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban and their Islamist allies are mostly active in the southern and eastern areas.

Some 23,000 coalition troops are hunting the militants while a NATO-led force has begun expanding its mission into the south.
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