At least 17 Afghan policemen were killed on Saturday when dozens of Taliban militants stormed their outpost in the country’s volatile south, the latest attack of an increasingly deadly summer fighting season.
The pre-dawn raid occurred in Helmand Province as the Taliban intensify their nationwide summer offensive despite repeated government attempts to reopen peace negotiations.
“Dozens of armed Taliban attacked a police checkpoint in Musa Qala District of Helmand,” Helmand Province police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhil told reporters. “In the attack, 17 police forces were killed, and three others were wounded.”
Helmand Province Governor Omar Zwak confirmed the death toll from the raid that occurred just after midnight. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they seized several weapons, ammunition and other military hardware from the checkpost.
“Our mujahedeen, armed with heavy and light weapons, attacked police checkpoint in Musa Qala district,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told reporters. “In the attack, 25 police forces were killed and 13 others were wounded.”
The Taliban, who were toppled from power in a 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, are known to make exaggerated battlefield claims.
The insurgents launched a countrywide offensive in late April, stepping up attacks on government and foreign targets in what is expected to be the bloodiest fighting season in a decade.
Saturday’s attack marks another grim setback for Afghan forces, facing their first fighting season without full NATO support.
NATO’s combat mission formally ended in December last year but a small follow-up foreign force of about 12,500 mainly US troops has stayed on to train and support local security personnel.
Afghan authorities have repeatedly tried to jump-start talks with the Taliban in the hope of ending the 13-year conflict, but the militants have set tough conditions, including the withdrawal of all foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Early last month Taliban militants killed at least 13 policemen after storming security outposts in the remote mountainous province of Badakhshan.
The attack came just weeks after a similar Taliban raid on army checkpoints in the northeast province in which 18 soldiers were killed — including some who were beheaded.
The surge in attacks has taken a heavy toll on civilians, according to the UN mission in Afghanistan. In the first four months of this year, civilian casualties jumped 16 percent from the same period last year, the UN mission said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration has drawn criticism for failing to end growing insurgent attacks, which critics partly blame on political infighting and a lengthy delay appointing a candidate for the crucial post of minister of defense.
Ghani last month nominated Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a top official in the government body overseeing the country’s peace process, for the job.
The post had been left vacant for months due to disagreements between Ghani and his chief executive and former presidential election rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
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