KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents killed 20 Afghan police in an ambush in one of the single worst raids in months in the country where foreign forces suffered their highest combat death toll in 2008 in the war.
The target of the attack was Mullah Salaam, the district chief of Musa Qala in Helmand province, who was once a member of the ousted Taliban, a provincial spokesman said on Thursday.
Salaam survived Wednesday’s attack on his convoy unharmed, Dawood Ahmadi said.
Ahmadi said two of the attackers were killed in a clash that followed the ambush in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the main drug-producing regions of Afghanistan, the world’s top supplier of heroin.
The Taliban could not be reached for comment immediately and the Interior Ministry in Kabul confirmed the killing of 20 police who were serving as bodyguards of the district chief.
The ministry said one woman was also killed in the attack.
Afghanistan is going through one of its worst spells of violence since 2005 when the Taliban began regrouping after being ousted in the U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.
The rise in violence comes despite increases in the number of foreign forces. Nearly 70,000 are currently in Afghanistan and the United States will begin moving up to 30,000 extra troops into Afghanistan soon.
Last year marked as the deadliest period for the troops since their deployment in 2001 with nearly 270 foreign soldiers, 127 of them Americans, killed only in combat, compared to 169 the previous year.
Hundreds more foreign soldiers were wounded in Taliban attacks last year, mostly involving roadside bomb blasts, which according to the U.S. ambassador, doubled to some 2,000 in 2008 from 2007.
With no immediate sight of an end to the conflict, the violence has created this fear that the country may slide back into anarchy.