TALEBAN fighters have overrun multiple checkpoints in a nighttime raid in Afghanistan’s volatile southern Helmand province, killing at least 20 police officers as the battle raged into yesterday morning, authorities said.
The assault came as Afghanistan’s military acknowledged the Taleban controls at least four districts across the country.
The attacks in Helmand hit police checkpoints in the Musa Qala district, said Mohammad Ismail Hotak, the head of the province’s joint coordination of police and military operations. He said the attacks wounded at least 10 officers, though the Taleban also seemed to have suffered high casualties.
The spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Sediq Sediqqi, said fighting ended yesterday afternoon with around 30 insurgents killed, including a group leader he named as Abdul Hadi.
Saqi Jan, the head of police logistics in Musa Qala, said area checkpoints were manned by officers from the neighbouring district of Baghran who had been forced out by earlier Taleban attacks.
“Baghran has been under Taleban control since last year, so these police came to Musa Qala and built themselves a small compound and some checkpoints,” he said.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attacks. The militants have been targeting vulnerable police checkpoints across the country since launching their summer offensive in April.
The police are seen as the main front line against the Taleban. However, often poorly equipped and stationed in remote outposts, they sometimes do not fare well against the insurgents.
Last month, a Taleban attack in Helmand’s Naw Zad district killed at least 19 police officers.
Taleban forces have stepped up their campaign in recent months, since the warmer weather began, with the aim of taking and holding territory in remote parts of the country. Since the departure of many western soldiers from the region last year, the Afghan forces are now fighting to retain control.
Afghan army general Afzel Aman, the head of the defence ministry’s operational department, said that four districts are now under Taleban control in the country: Nawa in Ghazni province, Baghran and Dishu in Helmand province and Khak-e Afghan in Zabul province.
“Fighting is going on almost everywhere compared with last year, and many places are under threat of enemy attack,” said Aman.
Afghan forces are fighting alone this year as the US and Nato have ended their combat mission and their casualties are soaring. Between 1 January and 7 May, 2,322 army, police and local police personnel were killed, 53 per cent more than the same period in 2014, according to Nato.
By comparison, a total of 2,217 American service members have been killed since the 2001 invasion.
The Afghan forces have recently stepped up their presence with the creation of what has been dubbed a “mini pentagon” a white marble building in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital built with US funds to serve as the headquarters of a modern military in the country.
The five-storey building with a 34-metre dome will accommodate 2,500 employees, with barracks for officers and enlisted men, an ancillary garrison as well as a wastewater treatment facility and a power plant.
However, the stepped-up fighting across Afghanistan has the government increasingly turning to local militias for help, undermining a decade-long effort to build a professional army.
In the northern province of Kunduz, the Taleban nearly seized the provincial capital in a surprise assault in April, as defenders ran low on food, fuel and ammunition.