KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban militants attacked a police station in southern Afghanistan, killing three officers, and abducted 19 people working for a land mine clearance project in the country’s east, officials said on Monday.
The attacks came amid spiraling violence as Taliban insurgents and the U.S.-trained Afghan government forces vie for control after the end of the NATO combat mission last year saw most foreign troops withdraw.
Gunmen wearing police uniform entered a police station in Helmand province on Sunday and opened fire, killing three police, said provincial deputy police chief Pacha Gul Bakhtyar.
The attack took place in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. Afghanistan’s armed forces launched a major offensive against Taliban insurgents in Helmand this spring.
The kidnap of the de-miners in the eastern province of Paktia was the latest in a series and came days after four abducted ethnic Hazara men were killed by their captors.
Abdul Wali Sahi, deputy governor of Paktia, said the Taliban abducted the de-miners on Sunday while they were surveying an area on the outskirts of Gardez, the provincial capital.
The abducted de-miners were employees of Sterling Demining Afghanistan, Sahi said. The company holds mine-clearing contracts throughout Afghanistan.
Safi said the Taliban had taken them to Zurmat district, which is mostly under the militants’ control.
The Taliban were not immediately available for comment.
“We are trying to release them by mediation of our elders in area,” Sahi said.
In addition to the increasingly deadly Taliban insurgency, kidnappings have become more common in Afghanistan, causing many people fear to travel on highways.
On Saturday, gunmen who had kidnapped the four ethnic Hazara men in the southern province of Ghazni beheaded their captives, according to a statement from President Ashraf Ghani’s office.
The Hazara men were kidnapped on Tuesday last week while traveling to buy some livestock. Ghani’s office condemned the beheadings as an “inhuman and unforgivable act”.
Another 31 Hazaras kidnapped from two buses in February are still missing.
Afghan security officials told Senate members on Sunday that there were prospects for the men’s release, but said they could not share details with them as it could harm the process.
Reporting by Samihullah Paiwand in Gardez; Writing by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Nick Macfie