Fierce fighting with suspected Taliban rebels left nine militants and three policemen dead, officials said yesterday -- the eve of landmark Afghan elections that many hope will marginalize insurgents and bolster a fragile democracy.
Security forces also said they had thwarted four massive militant bombings, including a plan to blow up a large dam, underscoring security fears for today's vote.
The violence came a day after the Taliban called for a boycott of the polls. They said they would not attack civilians going to vote, but would target areas where US-led coalition forces were deployed -- and advised people to avoid such places.
About 100,000 Afghan police and soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops are on alert across the country to safeguard today's polls. In Kabul, road checkpoints have sprung up, with police pulling over vehicles ranging from hay carts to ribbon-decked wedding cars.
In Kandahar, all vehicles were banned from driving inside the city after midday yesterday due to fears the militants will use car bombs.
In an unusually brazen attack on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, militants ambushed a security patrol, killing a district police chief and two officers, Interior Ministry spokesman Luftullah Mashal said.
"This is the first attack so close to Kabul that we have seen in a long time," he said. "The Taliban and al-Qaeda are trying their best to create problems."
Guerrillas also ambushed a police patrol on the main highway linking Kabul with the southern city of Kandahar, triggering a gunbattle that left seven militants dead, said Gulam Rasool, a government chief in Sharisafar district.
An insurgent rocket slammed into a police car, setting it on fire, but all the officers inside escaped, he said.
Two Taliban rebels were also killed during fighting in Kandahar Province on Thursday, according to a defense ministry statement. Eight suspected rebels were arrested, it said.
In another attack in Kandahar, rebels used a roadside bomb to attack a police chief as he was driving. It blew up his vehicle, but all inside survived with minor injuries, officials said.
Mashal said the intended targets of the three thwarted bombings weren't immediately clear.
Police in eastern Kunar Province detained two Pakistanis, suspected to be Taliban members, armed with 20kg of explosives.
Also, soldiers at a checkpoint in central Ghazni Province stopped a vehicle with C-4 high explosive hidden under its seats. A second car bomb was found in eastern Paktika Province when security forces discovered 300kg of explosives in the back of a pickup truck.