KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Gunmen shot and killed six Afghans in an ambush on a major highway in the country's troubled south yesterday, the second fatal attack in two days on employees of a US-funded antidrug project, officials said.
The company managing the project said it was withdrawing employees from southern Afghanistan, according to the US State Department.
The victims were transporting the body of one of five victims in the earlier assault to the capital, Kabul, for a funeral when militants stopped their vehicle and shot everyone in the head, said Naik Mohammed, a doctor in the town of Qalat where the bodies were taken.
The killings are the latest in a region known for drug traffickers and insurgents. The assaults, along with the kidnapping of an Italian aid worker this week in Kabul, have raised fears that tactics used in Iraq may be copied here.
Also in the country's south, two US soldiers were slightly wounded when a bomb exploded near their vehicle, the US military said.
Two of the Afghans killed in yesterday's attack and all five killed Wednesday were believed to be employees of Chemonics International Inc., a Washington-based consulting firm. Two others killed yesterday were relatives of one of Wednesday's victims, and the other two were drivers.
''The victims of these attacks are not just the people killed but all Afghan citizens struggling to rebuild their country and their lives," said Ashraf W. Rizk, president and chief executive officer of Chemonics International.
Yesterday, State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher extended ''our deepest condolences to the families, the friends, and the colleagues of the victims of both incidents."
''Chemonics has advised the US Embassy in Kabul that it is withdrawing personnel from southern Afghanistan, and taking a careful look at the security situation," he said. ''We will be helping the Afghan authorities with their investigation of this incident, as well as yesterday's."
Chemonics is managing a project sponsored by the US Agency for International Development to provide alternative livelihoods to farmers so they do not grow opium, the raw material for heroin. The project employs tens of thousands of Afghans to build roads, dig irrigation ditches, and perform other public works jobs.
Afghanistan produced nearly 90 percent of the world's opium last year, sparking warnings it is fast becoming a dangerous narco-state less than four years after the US-led invasion.
Ali Khail, spokesman for the government in Zabul Province, where yesterday's attack occurred, blamed Taliban militants for the killings. Officials also blamed the insurgents for Wednesday's assault, about 150 miles away in Helmand Province.
The officials offered no evidence to support their assertions, but Taliban-led militants have been active in the area for the last three years.