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Afghanistan: At Least 7 Killed by Suspected Taleban Guerrillas - 2003-08-07

In Afghanistan, suspected Taleban guerrillas have killed at least seven people, most of them Afghan soldiers, in an attack early Thursday in the southern part of the country.

Afghan security officials say the pre-dawn attack took place Thursday in a remote district of Helmand Province in the south. They say dozens of suspected Taleban fighters entered a government office in the area and opened fire.

Provincial authorities report that six Afghan soldiers and a local driver working for a U.S. aid organization, Mercy Corps, died in the attack.

Southern Afghanistan has been the scene of repeated anti-government attacks this year. The region used to be a stronghold of the ousted Taleban government.

A U.S.-led military coalition removed the Islamic group from power in late 2001 but its remnants are waging a low-level guerrilla war in the south and east of the country. The violence has killed dozens of Afghan soldiers and civilians this year.

The United Nations and aid groups have warned that security conditions are deteriorating outside the capital, Kabul, where an international peacekeeping force is deployed.

On Wednesday, the commander of the multinational force said security must improve across Afghanistan to ensure the general elections next June are held fairly and successfully. He says the number of terror attacks in the provinces has increased in the past six months.

Speaking to reporters in neighboring Pakistan earlier this week, Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said intense efforts are underway to improve security conditions, particularly in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

"We intend to invest at least $200 million in the creating of a 20,000-strong police force," he said. "The first units of a mobile police force, patrolling the Kabul-Kandahar highway, are already active. The recruitment process into the national army is going to be accelerated."

Afghan officials allege that many Taleban fugitives are using bases in Pakistani border areas to attack foreign and local targets in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the charges.