Taliban fighters kill 20 Afghan police
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Taliban militants ambushed a group of police officers eating lunch in remote southern Afghanistan, killing 20 and fatally shooting the mother of one as she pleaded unsuccess- fully for her son's life, an official said yesterday.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said two militants were killed and four wounded in the ambush Wednesday in Helmand Province. Ahmadi said 32 police officers were killed, but Afghan officials put the toll at 20, plus the mother.
Afghan police have less training and weapons than Afghan soldiers, and often bear the brunt of Taliban attacks. At least 870 police forces were killed in attacks in 2008, including the 20 in Helmand. Some 925 died in 2007.
Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in the last two years, and Taliban militants now control wide swaths of countryside. In what amounts to an Afghan version of the surge in Iraq, the United States is preparing to position at least 20,000 extra troops in the south, including Helmand. The president-elect, Barack Obama, wants to increase the US military presence in Afghanistan as the United States pulls back in Iraq.
Wednesday's attack targeted a police post in the small village of Shaghzay in the district of Kajaki in Helmand Province, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand's governor.
The 20 policemen killed were bodyguards for the district chief of the nearby town of Musa Qala, Ahmadi said. Musa Qala had been held by Taliban fighters for many months in 2007.
There are many Taliban fighters in the region between Musa Qala and Kajaki, and the Afghan government has little control outside of main district centers. Taliban fighters operate their own parallel government in the region, sometimes called a shadow government.
The Taliban's shadow police chief for Helmand Province, Mullah Mohammad Qassim, said that one of the policemen in the group of bodyguards was a Taliban sympathizer and had helped set up the ambush.
In other developments, NATO said two of its soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday. One was identified as British. The second soldier's nationality was not immediately released. NATO has about 12,500 forces in Afghanistan and the United States has about 32,000.
A record 151 US forces died in Afghanistan in 2008, the deadliest year in a seven-year war that military officials say is likely to get bloodier in 2009.