Afghan officials say gunmen have kidnapped a group of health ministry employees in southern Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Health is calling for the release of the employees who were abducted in Kandahar province on Thursday.

Insurgent kidnappings, assassinations and bombings have increased in recent months as NATO and Afghan forces work to clear Kandahar of Taliban militants.

In neighboring Uruzgan province, NATO says insurgents shot and killed a district leader at a make-shift checkpoint on Tuesday.

The alliance said Saleh Mohammad, a member of the local tribal council in Khaz Uruzgan district, was on a list of Afghan officials whom Taliban leader Mullah Omar wants killed.

On Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai approved a controversial U.S. plan for a new local defense force to help fight the Taliban insurgency. The local police units, similar to a tribal militia, will operate in villages in key areas to supplement efforts by the regular army and police.

Mr. Karzai said the force will be under the supervision of the Interior Ministry.  The Afghan leader had long resisted pressure from Washington to create the defense units, expressing concern that local militias could undermine the central government.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.