Taleban guerrillas have killed at least eight policemen in attacks in Afghanistan. Officials say five insurgents also died in the latest in a series of violent clashes with government forces in the restive south of the country.
Afghan officials say dozens of heavily armed insurgents attacked and burned a government building in Helmand province early Saturday morning.
Governmen Spokesman Yusef Stanszai confirmed the attacks Saturday afternoon. "Last night around one a.m. enemies of peace and stability attacked the district office and after that a clash occurred between the police and the enemy," said Mr. Stanszai.
During more than three hours of fierce fighting, officials say seven policemen and five rebels were killed. Another six officers were seriously wounded in the exchange.
At least one other policeman was killed in a separate attack a few hours earlier in the same province. Mr. Stanszai says police reinforcements have secured both areas.
In other clashes in the south during the past week, U.S. and Afghan forces say they killed some two dozen Taleban guerrillas.
Several U.S. soldiers were injured in the attacks and two U.S. military helicopters had to make hard landings after coming under heavy enemy fire.
Security experts say it is common for Taleban fighters to intensify raids just before winter, when cold weather and mountain snows limit their mobility.
This week's violence comes as international forces prepare to sharply increase their presence in Afghanistan's southern provinces, the main stronghold of the Taleban since they were ousted from power by a U.S.-led military campaign in 2001.
On Friday, NATO approved plans to add around 6,000 troops to its existing 9,000-member peacekeeping mission and establish new bases in the south early next year.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed NATO's decision. Mr. Karzai said the move shows the international community's commitment to Afghanistan. He said NATO's cooperation is vital as the country still lacks sufficient national security forces.
In addition to the NATO peacekeepers, there are 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, focusing primarily on counter-insurgency operations.