Afghan bystanders look through the blown-out windows of a bakery Wednesday… (Shah Marai / Agence France-Presse/Getty…)
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Ten members of an Afghan rural paramilitary force and seven others were drugged and killed at an outpost in a volatile eastern province, officials said Wednesday, in the latest deadly poisoning attributed to Taliban insurgents.
The killings occurred overnight in a remote district of Ghazni province where villagers last year took up arms against the Taliban. Members of the Afghan Local Police, a U.S.-backed rural guard force made up of village recruits, were poisoned during dinner by a fellow police officer whom officials said had ties to the Taliban, and then were fatally shot by insurgents who overran the outpost, officials said.
Ten of the dead were local police officers while the seven other victims were friends and relatives who were spending the night at the outpost to help provide security, said provincial Gov. Musa Khan Akbarzada.
“It was a harrowing incident,” Akbarzada said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings but denied the reports of poisoning. The incident was at least the fourth such poisoning of government security forces attributed to insurgents since October, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, which tracks security developments across the country.
The killings took place in the district of Andar, where villagers made headlines -- and won fans among U.S. military commanders -- last summer for an apparently spontaneous uprising against harsh Taliban rule. Many of the civilians who took up arms have been folded into the Afghan Local Police, which U.S. officials plan to expand nationwide from 20,000 troops to 45,000 troops in the coming years.
The Pentagon intends the local police to become the first line of defense against the Taliban in areas out of the reach of the regular Afghan army and police, but the force has been accused of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the lightly trained recruits and their commanders. The Afghan Interior Ministry, which supervises the local police, says it has taken steps to improve accountability and punished those who have committed abuses.
Some former members of the insurgency also have been recruited into the local police. Officials in Ghazni said the Taliban was trying to infiltrate the police force to stage revenge attacks.
“The uprising really affected the Taliban. They lost 120 or 140 of their men in Andar,” Ali Akbar Qasimi, a member of parliament from Ghazni, said by phone. “They couldn’t fight the uprisers or the security forces face-to-face, so this is their new tactic.”
Earlier Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying Afghan army soldiers in a western district of Kabul, wounding six of them and four civilians in the second security incident in the capital this week.
As snow fell over the region, the bomber struck while soldiers were boarding an Afghan Defense Ministry bus in the Pul-e-Sokhta area of Kabul shortly after 7 a.m. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in text messages to reporters.
The attack followed a shooting Sunday in central Kabul, where officers with the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, killed a suicide attacker who was attempting to targeting the agency’s offices with a car bomb, security officials said.
The incidents signaled the Taliban’s apparent intent to continue attacks on security targets in the heart of Kabul, even with about 100,000 international coalition troops in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led coalition plans to withdraw its combat forces by the end of the next year.